On June 8 the Oregon Nurses Association and St. Charles announced they'd reached a tentative agreement on a contract for the next three and a half years. ONA submitted a 10-day strike notice to the hospital system on June 1, meaning the Bend campus could've lost nearly 1,000 registered nurses by June 12. Negotiations lasted more than six months before nurses delivered the strike notice, and the bargaining teams met for more than 40 hours the two days before announcing an agreement was reached.
Throughout the process ONA focused on the hospital system's ability to recruit and retain new nurses. ONA said more than 500 nurses left the hospital system since 2019, and that it would continue without further protections. Both ONA and St. Charles agreed there are vacancies at the Bend campus, with ONA saying there are more than 300 open nursing positions.
"For our nurses, this contract is going to be a game changer. But it is really the impact on our patients that is the most gratifying," Erin Harrington, an RN and chair of the Bargaining Unit Executive Committee, said in a press release. "Given St. Charles' long-standing challenges recruiting new nurses to work at our hospital, these wins will be truly transformative for our ability to get new nurses at the bedside."
The new contract would raise wages by $17 an hour, or 41%, over the life of the contract. St. Charles said the average pay for registered nurses at St. Charles is about $108,000 a year, and St. Charles said it offered a nearly 25% raise in a press conference. The contract also protects things like rest and meal breaks, and requires St. Charles pay nurses who work through legally required breaks. ONA said that nurses at St. Charles Bend missed 42,000 meal or rest breaks in 2022.
"Studies show that nurses who work in supportive environments that prioritize nursing resources and minimum staffing standards experience better job satisfaction," Harrington said. "They experience less illness and injury, less emotional exhaustion, burnout, and moral injury, and are less likely to want to leave their jobs."
Before the agreement, St. Charles worked on contingency plans to sustain operations without its registered nurses. Those plans included bringing in temporary replacement workers and shutting down some of the hospital's services until it could regain its workers. St. Charles nurses were scheduled to vote to ratify the agreement the week of June 12-16.