Hospital workers in Vancouver, Wash. unionize to fight for their patients

VANCOUVER, Wash. (PAI) – Newly unionized workers at the PeaceHealth Southwest Medical Center in Vancouver, Wash., met on June 9 to discuss contract goals for their first-ever negotiations with the facility’s management, the Northwest Labor Press reported.

The session was expected to concentrate on improved pay and benefits and stronger protections for worker rights, after the Oregon Federation of Nurses and Health Professionals (OFNHP), an AFT affiliate, won by 211-77 in a 93 percent voter turnout the week before.

That made the 310 licensed practical nurses, physical and occupational therapists and MRI, surgical, radiology, CT, ultrasound, anesthesia and pharmacy techs the first OFNHP unit at the hospital. They join a first-in-the-nation AFT unit at PeaceHealth Sacred Heart hospitals in Springfield and Eugene: The facilities’ doctors.

They’re members of AFT Local 6522, and they held informational picketing on June 23 about hospital administrators’ interference with patient care and patient loads.

“We unionized” in late 2014 “to protect our ability to always provide optimal care for those in our community and beyond who seek care at Sacred Heart,” said their spokesman, Dr. Frank Littell. “We will picket, and even go on strike if necessary, to secure a contract that ensures decisions by administrators can never impede our freedom to act in the best interest of our patients.” Talks have been going for 18 months, the newspaper reported.

In Vancouver, the OFNHP had to overcome an active, and possibly illegal, anti-union management campaign, including quizzing workers on their union sympathies, tearing down union literature from communal bulletin boards and illegal spying. OFNHP filed labor law-breaking, formally called unfair labor practices, charges with the regional office of the National Labor Relations Board.

Vancouver management’s attitude was symbolized the night the votes were counted. As unionists cried and cheered in joy, union officials said hospital Labor Relations Director Scott Allan glowered and headed for the door. OFNHP President Dawnette McDonald came up to him with a written request to open bargaining on a first contract. He refused to take it.

But then Allan had to. “Three women unionists spontaneously locked arms and blocked his way out,” the Labor Press reported. “He then tucked it under his arm and walked out.”

Photo: Newly unionized workers (pictured) at PeaceHealth.  |  NW Labor Press



Press Associates Union News Service provides national coverage of news affecting workers, including activism, politics, economics, legislation in Congress and actions by the White House, federal agencies and the courts that affect working people. Mark Gruenberg is Editor in chief and owner of Press Associates Union News Service, Washington, D.C.