Negotiate

Amber Cooper, of the Oregon Nurses Association, was part of a picket line on Tuesday outside Columbia Memorial Hospital.

Nurses at Columbia Memorial Hospital, supported by other union members, picketed along Marine Drive on Tuesday amid a labor dispute with the hospital’s administration.

The Oregon Nurses Association, a union representing more than 120 nurses at the Astoria hospital, has been negotiating with the hospital to replace a three-year contract that expired in May. Unable to reach an agreement, the two sides recently brought in a mediator.

New contract

Dozens of nurses marched along Marine Drive, calling for a new contract.

Hospital administrators have presented an updated offer before the next scheduled negotiations on Friday.

The latest offer would increase nurses’ wages by 10% over three years through cost-of-living adjustments, and nurses would also see step increases. It would limit the hospital to docking only 20% of nurses’ scheduled hours within a fiscal quarter for low patient counts and double tuition reimbursement for those studying for bachelor’s degrees.

“The CMH bargaining team has worked in good faith with (the nurses association) toward a fair contract which allows for recruitment of high-quality nurses and continues to provide the best care for our community,” Nicole Williams, the hospital’s chief operating officer, said in a statement. “We heard nurses’ concerns over our initial proposals regarding shift lengths and time worked, and have made significant concessions to ensure that they have more consistent hours and paychecks.”

Nurses claim the hospital is stockpiling profits for a new hospital amid dangerous staffing levels and low pay, making it difficult to attract new workers. They point to the hospital’s nearly 12% operating margin, the third-highest among small, rural hospitals in the state.

Nurses take particular issue with the hospital’s ability to send them home early for low patient counts, and the variability in hours for part-timers. They want a 2016 nurse staffing law enshrined in their contract. The Oregon Health Authority has received one nursing complaint against Columbia Memorial over staffing violations since the law went into effect.

“We have folks who have lost 60% of their paychecks over the last six months,” said Amber Cooper, a union representative.

Nicholas Bowling, a nurse in the hospital’s post-anesthesia care unit, said there are staffing shortages in most of the hospital’s units.

“It’s highly documented that there’s an increased risk of mortality and morbidity with increased patient ratios, and the hospital obviously doesn’t care about the ratio,” he said.

The pickets are intended to ratchet up the pressure on the hospital’s administration. Nurses delivered a petition in June to the hospital’s CEO, Erik Thorsen, for better pay, benefits, staffing and training. The union also recently distributed flyers pointing out that Thorsen makes more than $645,000 in pay and benefits and has seen double-digit pay increases over the past few years.

The standoff echoes past labor disputes. In 2002, nurses picketed and threatened to strike before reaching an agreement with the hospital. Hundreds of hospital employees covered by the Service Employees International Union Local 49 have also picketed and threatened to strike in the past.

Edward Stratton is a reporter for The Astorian. Contact him at 971-704-1719 or estratton@dailyastorian.com.

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