Image: Oregon Nurses on Strike
The city of Portland, Oregon is in the midst of a historic nursing strike, the first the city has seen in 22 years. Beginning on Monday, June 19th, 2023, over 1,300 nurses walked off the job at Providence Portland Medical Center.
The original 1,300 nurses were joined by the Medical Center’s Seaside hospital and a home health and hospice units shortly after, reported Oregon Live. The strike is a limited one and will last only five days in total, ending on June 23rd. According to the Oregon Nurses Association (ONA), the clinicians and nurses who joined the strike are “resolved” to stand firm in the strike as they demand “fair contracts that will recruit new staff, retain experienced nurses and clinicians, and honor members’ commitment to patients and their communities with safe patient care standards and a competitive wage and benefits package.”
About the Providence Portland Strike
According to the ONA, nurses and other healthcare workers are striking against Providence—the state’s largest healthcare provider that also happens to be one of the state’s largest private corporations—for five main reasons:
Providence has refused to raise safe patient staffing standards.
Providence neglected to address other important patient safety issues in their contract.
Providence has not made a retention plan for current staff.
Providence has proposed wages well below the competitive market and their own issued standards.
Providence’s lack of response has resulted in negative patient care impacts like longer ER wait times, delayed care, and increased complications.
The strike started on June 19th and involved the following locations:
Providence Portland (4805 NE Glisan St, Portland, OR): 24 hours beginning at 5:30 a.m.
Providence Seaside (725 S Wahanna Rd, Seaside, OR): 7 a.m. to 9 p.m.
Providence Home Health & Hospice (6410 NE Halsey St, Portland, OR): 7 a.m. to 6 p.m.
While the ONA provided plenty of information ahead of time to both staff and the community about the strike, they also encouraged anyone needing care to continue to visit the hospital if they needed help:
“To all our patients and to those who receive services from Providence in Seaside and the Portland metro area: If you are sick, please do not delay getting medical care! Patients should seek hospital care immediately if they need it. We would rather be the ones providing that care, but Providence management have forced our hand and we find ourselves on the picket line advocating for you, our communities, and our colleagues. Going into the hospital to get the care you need is NOT crossing our strike line. In fact, we invite you to come join us on the strike line after you’ve gotten the care you need.”
In a previous press release, the ONA explained that part of the conversation leading up to the strike involved discrepancies between what Providence claimed nurses were making and what floor nurses actually make, along with other compensation considerations that weren’t based on money alone.
For instance, the ONA said that Providence released a press release that stated the current average full-time equivalent salary for a Providence Portland nurse is $128,000—a figure the ONA said was both “flat-out wrong” and “intentionally deceptive.”
The ONA disputed that claim, pointing out the top base wage a nurse can make is $61.82 with the current contract and that the only way to reach the $128K mark would be a nurse at the very top of the pay structure who also had 30 years of experience and was receiving clinical excellence differentials—which they weren’t even sure any nurses actually receive.
The ONA provided the correct numbers, which boiled down to a mean wage of $50.66/hour, which equaled:
$94,835 in base wages for a day shift nurse
$99,000 with specialty certification
Money aside, the ONA also said that Providence nurses were concerned about sick time and paid time off in order to care for themselves and their families, along with safe staffing, making their careers sustainable, and recruiting new, qualified talent “ to support our work at the bedside, and [protect] our communities.”
In another press release, the ONA explained that one of the primary concerns of nurses was over safe staffing. “Providence refuses to address short staffing and patient safety concerns in the hospitals, not to mention the excessive caseload requirements placed on nurses and clinicians working in patient homes,” the ONA noted.
As part of a proposed contract before the strike, the ONA also pointed out Providence had its “math wrong” and even at the top tier of its supposed pay scale, a nurse could only make $112K with speciality certification.
“Even under their own proposal, it falls well short of their claims,” the ONA wrote.
Nurses on the picket lines told a local news outlet that part of the problem leading up to the strike was that the patient ratios surged during the pandemic to sometimes as high as 6 or7 patients per nurse—and then never changed, even once the acute needs of the pandemic abated.
“I hear 6 to 1, 7 to 1 sometimes, and I know as a nurse that receives the patients from the floor and the emergency room departments, that these nurses are overburdened trying to take basic nursing care of these patients,” Linda Radcliffe, a RN at Providence Milwaukie Hospital told Katu News.
Katu News also reported that Providence reduced their patient numbers by 25% on the first day of the strike and brought in temp nurses to staff the hospital, although they declined to reveal how much they had paid the temporary nurses.
Providence also told Katu News that because the nurses had decided to strike, the offers that the hospital proposed in their latest round of negotiations were no longer valid.
The three major offers the nurses have lost out on as a result of the strike were:
The strike has been well-supported since plans of it first appeared and the actual nurses striking have continued to be encouraged and supported by both the community and local leaders.
For instance, the ONA posted on Twitter that many local and state leaders supported the nurses on strike. They listed and tagged many prominent individuals, including State Rep. Dr. Thuy Tran, State Representative Travis Nelson—who is also a Registered Nurse–-and Oregon State Senator Jeff Merkley.
Image: ONA Twitter
Oregon’s Governor Tina Kotek also posted a Tweet in support of the nurses striking:
The ONA also shared images on their Instagram account from day one of the strike.
Nurse Blake (@nurse.blake) also posted on Instagram in support of the Providence nurses. “i stand with all the nurses striking this week against Profitdence in Oregon!!!,” he wrote in a deliberate play on words.
Image: Nurse Blake Instagram
Both nurses and Providence patients posted in Blake’s comment section, expressing their gratitude and support.
Strike member Sara Margheim also put up a Facebook post detailing what some of the Providence staff has been experiencing. She wrote that Providence has closed many of its units—including NICU, ICU, Mother and Baby—in preparation for the strike.
“They started by gaslighting us in their emails, then have progressed to guilting us,” she added. “We’ve been taken advantage of for years and we’re finally able to do something about it. We are sacrificing this week to change the future.”
Political candidate and nurse Melissa Busch also penned a powerful Faebook post detailing her own personal experience working for Providence, including why she ultimately quit.
In her post, she explained that she had worked for Providence for 15 years before resigning because she was “exhuasted” and “tired” of her concerns being ignored and “giving [her] skills to an unstainable model.”
Another nurse explained that Providence has refused to negotation until the strike is complete, so current nurses and healthcare workers must now finish out the duration of the strike before bargaining can resume.
The strike is a limited-day strike, so it will only last five days and is scheduled to end Friday, June 23rd.
Anyone wanting to get involved or support the Providence staff strike can do so online by donating, sharing messages of support, volunteering, or joining a picket line.
Image: ONA Instagram