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Healthcare workers launch strike as contract negotiations continue

Brian Bull

Dozens of healthcare workers marched outside McKenzie-Willamette Medical Center in Springfield this morning.  They’re striking against what organizers call unfair labor practices at the facility.

Union leaders with SEIU Local 49 say McKenzie-Willamette plans to outsource nearly 100 positions with a Texas staffing company, and are also failing to pay fair wages.

Rachel Gordon is a certified nursing assistant who was on the picket line in the pre-dawn hours.

Credit Brian Bull / KLCC
Dozens of union members picket outside McKenzie-Willamette Medical Center in the early hours of October 5, 2021.

“I don’t want to be out here, when I could be inside taking care of my patients," Gordon told KLCC. 

"It’s about to provide quality care for those inside. I do not have a desire to be outside, but this (sic) are the necessary actions we do need to take.” 

The union and medical center are working on a new contract, following the previous one's expiration in late August.

A McKenzie-Willamette spokesperson, Jana Waterman, says while disappointed with the decision to strike, they respect workers’ rights and are bargaining in good faith with the union.

"Regarding outsourcing, the hospital is open to reviewing proposals from the union related to outsourcing, but to date the only alternative offered has been not to outsource," Waterman wrote in an email.

"Outsourcing represents an investment in our patients and employees. All current (56) housekeeping and dietary employees will be offered employment and the company will help to recruit additional staff to further improve the patient experience."

SEIU Local 49 plans to continue the strike line outside the medical center through Wednesday night.  Organizers say more than 400 frontline healthcare workers including housekeepers, certified nursing assistants, MRI technicians, respiratory therapists, pharmacy technicians, and others are participating.

Copyright 2021, KLCC. 

Brian Bull is an assistant professor of journalism at the University of Oregon, and remains a contributor to the KLCC news department. He began working with KLCC in June 2016.   In his 27+ years as a public media journalist, he's worked at NPR, Twin Cities Public Television, South Dakota Public Broadcasting, Wisconsin Public Radio, and ideastream in Cleveland. His reporting has netted dozens of accolades, including four national Edward R. Murrow Awards (22 regional),  the Ohio Associated Press' Best Reporter Award, Best Radio Reporter from  the Native American Journalists Association, and the PRNDI/NEFE Award for Excellence in Consumer Finance Reporting.