Nurses and administrators at Columbia Memorial Hospital have tentatively agreed to a new three-year contract, ending a monthslong labor dispute.
Hospital administrators and the Oregon Nurses Association, a union representing more than 130 nurses at the Astoria hospital, began negotiating seven months ago to replace a three-year contract that expired in May. The two sides struggled to reach an agreement, with significant disputes over pay, benefits, staffing and the docking of hours based on low patient counts.
Nurses held pickets, marches and other public events, claiming the hospital is stockpiling profits for a new campus amid dangerously low staffing levels, inconsistent scheduling and low pay. The two sides brought in a federal mediator but hadn’t met since August.
Amber Cooper, a union representative, said nurses were preparing for a strike vote as a final measure, while the hospital’s administration was trying to find temporary nurses to fill in. The mediator brought the two sides together for a final negotiation Wednesday, she said.
“We could not have reached this deal without the overwhelming support of our community,” Kelsey Betts, a nurse in the family birthing center and chairwoman of the negotiating team, said in a news release. “This contract is a big step up. It helps ensure CMH will continue to be staffed with skilled nurses, especially as the hospital looks to grow in the coming years.”
The tentative agreement, which nurses will vote on in the coming weeks, includes a 5% pay increase upon ratification, along with 3% in 2020 and 2021, according to a release from the union. The hours docked from a nurse’s schedule because of a low patient count would be capped at 20% of their shifts per fiscal quarter. An official process would be put in place to review cases when the hours of part-time nurses are cut by more than 30% because of internal hospital decisions.
Nurses had pushed for the hospital to include a 2016 state staffing law in their contract. The Oregon Health Authority has one complaint against the hospital for multiple alleged violations of the law.
The agreement includes additional steps to resolve staffing issues in-house before filing complaints with the state. It gives nurses the option of filing union grievances if the hospital does not agree to take a staffing issue to a vote of the hospital’s staffing committee, Cooper said.
“We are pleased to have reached an agreement with the” nurses union, Nicole Williams, the hospital’s chief operating officer, said in a news release. “Our nurses have consistently provided excellent care to our patients and are an integral part of the organization’s success. We would like to thank our caregivers and community for their continued support in helping CMH provide the highest quality health care in the region.”