On the Picket Line

Oregon medical workers win first union contract

By Louise Goodman
April 19, 2021

BEND, Ore. — Medical technicians, therapists and other workers at St. Charles Medical Center overwhelmingly ratified their first union contract March 31. They had voted to join the Oregon Federation of Nurses and Health Professionals in 2019 and had been fighting for a contract ever since. St. Charles is the only hospital here, and the largest employer in central Oregon.

The contract was approved by almost 95%, respiratory therapist Deidre Moore told the Militant. While wage gains of up to 25% were won for some positions, she said the fight for a contract was about a lot more then money. “It’s about having a voice and being treated fairly.”

Moore considered the contract a victory, even though they didn’t get everything they wanted. The agreement doesn’t make the hospital a closed shop; new workers don’t have to join the union.

This Militant worker-correspondent joined the picket line all nine days of the strike. Everyone I talked to described the bad working conditions, especially with the extra challenges of the pandemic. Most signs at the picket demanded respect on the job and a contract that would improve support for their patients.

“Alongside pay equity, workers will now have a comprehensive ladder for wage increases based on years of experience and tenure,” the union said in a press release.

“The contract also ensures that workers will have the ability to challenge contract violations through a grievance procedure and binding arbitration,” it said. Many workers told me this was an important issue.

Hospital bosses put out their own news release, trying to play down the gains won by the strike, especially on wages, KTVZ News reported.

“We wouldn’t have this contract today if we hadn’t went on strike,” Beatrice Redding-Walczyk, a radiation therapist at the hospital’s Cancer Center, told KTVZ, answering the bosses. “We had no future bargaining dates, they were not agreeing to anything, they were trying to ‘union bust’ us.”

“The dispute brought people together,” said Deedee Schumacher, an ultrasound technologist. “We gained representation, unity and a voice in our workplace.”