"Nurses Fight for Future of Nursing"
By Kathleen Sheridan, RN, MPA
Labor Relations Representative
Oregon Nurses Association
Never a braver group has graced the sidewalks of Oregon Health and Science University (OHSU). Since May 23, 2001, the Association of University Registered Nurses (AURN), the collective bargaining unit of ONA nurses at OHSU, has negotiated with their employer for better wages, a health insurance premium plan that will not leave them bankrupt and a practice environment that will attract and retain nurses.
On Dec. 17, 2001, 1,400 OHSU nurses walked off the job to prove to management how important these issues are. As of press time, approximately 1,300 nurses are still on strike, pressuring management to come to the table with an offer that shows the nurses they are being heard.
From the first day of negotiations, OHSU management has tried to make this struggle about "competitive wages," i.e., wages that fall somewhere in the ballpark of nurse wages in the Portland metro area. They have spent thousands of dollars in advertising and enlisted the help of the local media in focusing the public's attention on how their generous offers would bring the OHSU nurses up to a mythical "metro area average."
Nursing Profession Devalued:
Clearly, OHSU wages are significantly lower than that of their colleagues in other area hospitals, and the AURN Negotiating Team has worked hard to remedy that inequity. But every OHSU nurse knows that this struggle is not about just competing with Providence Portland Medical Center, Providence St. Vincent Medical Center, or non-union hospitals, such as Legacy Emanuel Hospital. They know that this is about competing with the larger world of work, where college graduates have more choices than ever about what to do with the rest of their lives. They know that this is about restoring nursing to a preferred profession, where young people and those wishing to change careers will be attracted to a work life that offers them an appealing paycheck as well as the opportunity to do good for others.
We live in a society that has allowed the work of nursing to become devalued, causing a nursing shortage of epic proportions. The OHSU nurses have challenged their employer to position the university in the vanguard of nursing leadership by acknowledging the severity of the shortage and taking clear, decisive and effective steps to address it.
Instead of establishing themselves as leaders in the health care community, OHSU management chose not only to accept a strike from its nurses, but to nickel-and-dime them at the mediation table. Instead of acknowledging the now-public appalling employee/management relationships that permeate the institution and taking steps to repair and improve them, OHSU management allowed the relationship to worsen during a multi-week strike, losing the support of some of their most ardently loyal nurses. Many of those moved on to other institutions when they sensed that OHSU management might never get it. It is a sad moment in nursing when an employer is so blind to the ultimate goal that it encourages nurses to flee its halls and take refuge in other institutions where administrators have studied the long term effects of negative labor/management relations and chosen to be proactive in creating a welcoming practice environment.
The OHSU nurses voted to strike over a very specific set of issues, which were clearly within the purview of management to address. Why did the university choose to prolong a strike that could have ended swiftly if they had presented an offer to the nurses that indicated their willingness to begin a new era of cooperation? The nurses involved in this strike can only come to the reasonable conclusion that management's actions during negotiations have been all about maintaining a posture of control and an unwillingness to share it.
Indifference to Nurses:
Every researcher who has done work in the field of labor relations knows that the first resource you promote and protect is your human resource, particularly when your "product" is the care of others in the community. For an employer to create an environment where the providers of health care feel devalued is to encourage the very same attitude toward those who receive the care. What kind of statement has OHSU made to the community when it neglects to promote the well-being of its own employees? To perpetuate an environment of indifference that could eventually spill over onto those who receive the care is an irresponsible act.
As of press time, we do not know the actual outcome of this strike. Will the OHSU nurses still be on the picket line or will they have voted on a contract and returned to work? Will the nurses have their needs met or will they consider this strike the first battle in the ongoing war to improve the nursing care of patients?
Whatever the ending, nursing at OHSU will have changed forever and nurses in that bargaining unit will carry with them a sense of unity and accomplishment throughout their careers. As fellow nurses of Oregon, you should be prepared to congratulate them on their tremendous achievement. They have taken up a cause with which many of you are intimately familiar, and they have carried your flag.
They have told their administrators that "business as usual" is no longer acceptable and that nurses will rise up again and again to speak out against the skewed priorities of the health care industry.
When the nursing care of patients--and the welfare of those who provide it--becomes a permanent focus of our employers, then--and only then--will we rest.
footnote: An agreement was reached and eighty-six percent of the Rns voted in favor of the new contract, ending the strike after 56 days. The three-year contract includes wage increases of at least 20.5% and commits OHSU to developing a less expensive health insurance plan for its employees. In addition, nurses gained greater authority over patient care issues. The OHSU Rns returned to work in unison on February 13th, 2002.
Attention RNs in Oregon:
OREGON NURSES ANNUAL CONVENTION
April 16th - 19th, 2002
schedule and registration details at: http://www.oregonrn.org/
Mar 15, '02
I know several OHSU and Doernbecker Nurses who were out on strike...
Across the board they were very disappointed when it was all over with, their opinion is that the 86% that voted in favor of the contract accepted a deal that was not significantly different than the multiple offers that were previously declined, just a redistribution of the numbers.
Additionally, for the majority of them, the strike cost them the long term shifts and units they had previously been on. These are not newer Nurses, 3 of them are within 5 years of full retirement (30 years).
Last edit by kids on Mar 15, '02
Mar 15, '02
<Nurses have to wear a "caring" hat and a "watchdog" hat as well. It can be done. I can't wait to throw my hat in the ring >
So true but there is a place in that for students too. Students can also be involved and help change things. No need to wait until you graduate. You can make a difference now. Contact your state assoc & ask to participate in the next RN Legislative Day at your state capitol - you'll see it can be done.
you dont have to be a member or a full-fledged RN to participate.
Last edit by -jt on Mar 15, '02
Mar 16, '02
<I know several OHSU and Doernbecker Nurses who were out on strike...
Across the board they were very disappointed when it was all over with, their opinion is that the 86% that voted in favor of the contract accepted a deal that was not significantly different>
Since 86% voted to accept this contract, that would indicate that, across the board, the nurses were satisfied with it. From what I read, the issues that the nurses struck for were met to the satisfaction of the majority of nurses who worked there. As in anything, theres always going to be some who have a different opinion. But majority rules and the majority must have thought it was a good contract since they took it - which they didnt have to do.
If the contract did not meet their needs and answer the issues at the core of the strike, I dont think the majority would have voted to accept it.
Last edit by -jt on Mar 16, '02