25/02/2024

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1,300 PeaceHealth workers voted to strike; company says they would lose insurance benefits

1,300 PeaceHealth workers voted to strike; company says they would lose insurance benefits

More than 1,300 health care workers at PeaceHealth say they could lose their health insurance if the upcoming strike planned for Monday carries into November.

A PeaceHealth spokeswoman confirmed Tuesday that the health care nonprofit would not pay its portion of insurance premiums for striking employees after Nov. 1, but she said striking employees would be eligible for continued coverage at their own expense through COBRA.

“Regarding health insurance, It is unfortunate the union’s timing of their strike notice will potentially have the strike carry over into the next month,” PeaceHealth spokeswoman Debra Carnes said in a written statement. “This is our standard practice that applies to any caregiver (union-represented or not) who chooses not to work, including those who leave the hospital to transition to another job.”

The Oregon Federation of Nurses and Health Professionals, which represents respiratory therapists, radiology technicians and maintenance workers, gave PeaceHealth a 10-day notice on Oct. 13 for a strike at PeaceHealth Southwest Medical Center in Vancouver and PeaceHealth St. John Medical Center in Longview.

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The union conceded in a press release that PeaceHealth’s decision is legal, but it described the move as “incredibly uncommon” and something that would leave workers from the Tech and Service and Maintenance Units at PeaceHealth Southwest Medical Center and lab professionals at PeaceHealth St. John in a vulnerable state.

“This is putting these frontline health care workers at severe risk of health complications, which is a particularly brutal thing to do amidst a health care crisis, especially since many of these health professionals literally put themselves on the line saving lives during the COVID-19 pandemic,” said Jonathon Baker, OFNHP president.

Members of Oregon Federation of Nurses and Health Professionals AFT Local 5017 say low wages and staffing are two of the main bargaining points with PeaceHealth administration. Members of the union are striking over what it has described as prolonged contract negotiations with PeaceHealth management.

The union claimed PeaceHealth is offering upwards of $8,000 a week or more to strikebreaking travelers and that PeaceHealth has paused all bargaining meetings.

Carnes said PeaceHealth postponed bargaining sessions upon receiving the union’s 10-day notice “to focus our full attention on ensuring the continued delivery of safe, high-quality patient care during the union’s strike.”

She said that PeaceHealth has hired temporary replacement caregivers from a staffing agency to ensure that care for patients is not interrupted if the strike occurs.

The strike will begin at 6:30 a.m. on Monday, with picket lines planned at both PeaceHealth Southwest Medical Center and PeaceHealth St. John Medical Center in Longview.