Nurses working at St. Charles Bend have alleged that the hospital threatened them after they raised concerns about workplace staffing and participated in union activities.

Last week, three local nurses filed unfair labor practice charges with the National Labor Relations Board, a federal agency that oversees and enforces laws related to organized labor. Representatives from the hospital denied engaging in unfair labor practices, describing the charges as a negotiating tactic.

However, nurses and representatives from the Oregon Nurses Association described the situation as a harmful workplace environment that’s only getting worse.

“The health care delivery culture needs to change at St. Charles,” said John Nangle, an emergency department staff nurse and the co-chair of the hospital’s nurse staffing committee.

The charges are the latest foray in a prolonged labor dispute between the Bend hospital and the approximately 900 nurses who work there. The existing contract between the two sides was slated to expire at the end of June, but they failed to reach a new agreement. Since then, they have continued operating under the existing contract while negotiations were underway, according to The Bulletin’s archives.

Nangle said pushing for increased staffing has been a priority for the bargaining team in negotiations. In fall 2017, an investigation by the Oregon Health Authority revealed 101 staffing issues at the Bend hospital, and some nurses feel those issues have not been properly resolved, according to Kevin Mealy, communications manager for the nurses association.

Nangle said the hospital periodically experiences staffing shortages that lead to delayed care for patients, particularly during busy times of the year.

“We’re nurses first, and we’re employees of St. Charles second,” Nangle said.

While Nangle declined to go into specifics about the charges filed with the labor relations board for fear that the hospital might retaliate, he said two nurses felt they were targeted for raising issues about staffing at the hospital. Mealy added that the third nurse felt the hospital retaliated for participating in a union activity.

“These are examples of a larger pattern,” Mealy said.

Lisa Goodman, public information manager for St. Charles, wrote in an email that St. Charles has not engaged in any unfair labor practices and the safety of patients and staff continues to be the hospital’s highest priority.

“It is important to note that filing unfair labor practice charges is a common union strategy during complicated negotiations,” Goodman wrote.

Going forward, the labor board will begin an investigation into the allegations. Mealy said the agency will likely know within a month whether the allegations have merit, though it could be several months before a decision is made.

In the meantime, the two sides are planning to meet again with a federal mediator Thursday, according to Goodman. Mealy said this will likely be the last meeting before the end of the year.

— Reporter: 541-617-7818, shamway@bendbulletin.com

22035925