Organizers say the union drive was spurred by Legacy’s abrupt, temporary closure of the Mount Hood Birth Center earlier this year.
Health care professionals at 10 women’s health clinics in the Legacy Medical Group have announced their intent to unionize with the Oregon Nurses Association.
According to a press release issued by ONA last week, the group includes over 60 registered nurses, social workers, certified nurse midwives, nurse practitioners and genetic counselors at Legacy’s women’s health clinics in Portland, Gresham, Silverton, Keizer, Woodburn and Vancouver.
The announcement comes a month after 250 doctors, nurses and physician assistants across all eight Legacy Health hospitals in Oregon and Washington filed union authorization cards with the National Labor Relations Board last month.
Union organizer and Legacy nurse-midwife Laurie Swain says that the idea of a union gathered steam when Legacy closed the Mount Hood Family Birth Center in March, despite lacking an approval waiver from the Oregon Health Authority.
“It’s something that kind of been in discussion for a while, but nothing ever really came of it. But this spring, when Legacy made the decision to close Mount Hood, that was really a catalyst for our groups. We realized how much our practices and the care that we provide for communities is at risk, we wanted to put some protections in place. Pretty quickly talks amongst the group started, and here we find ourselves today,” says Swain, who pointed to rising rates of midwives leaving the profession and rising national infant mortality rates as reasons for needing a union. “We have had less and less say in resources available to us as we provide care to patients, and in the way our work is structured. We want to give ourselves some leverage in the system in which we work.”
Following the announcement that Mount Hood would close, the Oregon Health Authority denied Legacy’s waiver request to close the birth center and launched an investigation into Legacy’s decision to close the center without official permission. Legacy reopened the facility in June, nearly three months after it had closed.
ONA spokesperson Kevin Mealy says Legacy could speed up the process by officially recognizing the union, though that outcome was unlikely. The union will still have to register with the National Labor Relations Board, after an official union authorization vote in the coming weeks.
If employees vote in favor of representation, they will join nearly 700 nurses and behavioral health professionals represented by the ONA in the Legacy Health system. They will also join 200 Legacy Health hospitalists holding their union vote from Tuesday through Thursday of this week.
Legacy Health did not respond in time to OB’s request for comment before deadline.
The announcement is yet another snowflake in a flurry of union activity across the state’s health care sector, including strikes at Providence Health Systems in Portland and Seaside this summer and a strike authorization vote at Oregon Health and Science University in September.
Last week’s announcement is in line with a second trend, where health care workers other than nurses are seeking union representation. In July, 57 employees at Legacy’s Unity Center for Behavioral Health in Portland — including crisis intervention specialists, social workers and therapists filed for union recognition with the National Labor Relations Board, voicing concerns about staffing and safety. And in August, 70 hospital physicians at Providence St. Vincent Medical Center in Portland voted to join the Pacific Northwest Hospital Medicine Association, a hospitalists union represented by AFT Health Care and served by ONA.