St. Charles caregivers rally for union contract

Negotiations resume early next month

POSTED: 6:48 PM PDT July 25, 2012    UPDATED: 2:48 PM PDT July 26, 2012 
St. Charles SEIU picketing
BEND, Ore. -

After several bargaining sessions and no agreement on a union contract, many St. Charles Medical Center caregivers made their voices heard in an informational picket line Wednesday.

St. Charles officials declined to go on camera Wednesday but said the timing of the picketing was unfortunate, since the negotiations are continuing.

"You can't do it without the people," said one St. Charles employee. "This hospital wouldn't be doing so well if it wasn't for us. It's on the backs of us."

The employees said the lingering dispute over a first contract for the Service Employees International Union focuses on four main issues: fair wages, job security, a voice in the work place and affordable health care benefits.

"We've looked at the hospital's finances, and they have plenty of money," said Meg Niemi, president of the SEIU local chapter and chief union negotiator. "They made $23 million in the first quarter of this year, so it's not a question of them not being able to meet the needs of their hospital workers."

St. Charles-Bend CEO Jay Henry released a statement Wednesday saying, "We respect our caregivers and their right to be represented by a union. We also understand that they have the right to hold an informational picket, although we do not believe it is necessary at this time since we are continuing to negotiate in good faith.

"We want to reassure our patients that our operations are continuing normally despite this event and that, as always, our focus remains on providing the best possible care to our community."

Charges of unfair labor practices have flown back and forth and a requested re-vote on whether to keep the union is still on hold, some 18 months after the union was voted in by a narrow margin.

"I was born here and I grew up here, and it makes a difference knowing what kind of provider you want for your family if it's needed," said former St. Charles employee Ken Daniels. "It affects me still, and I want to make sure they get this stuff done because I know how important it is."

The two sides will meet again at the bargaining table on August 3rd.