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This is not a strike: PeaceHealth hospital workers walk picket line and protest during work breaks

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Tiffany Eckert
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KLCC
PeaceHealth workers and caregivers from cafeteria services to maintenance to medical came out on their breaks to participate in a multi-state informational picket.

Hospital workers rallied on the sidewalk outside Springfield’s Sacred Heart Medical Center at RiverBend Tuesday. Hundreds came out—some during work breaks-- to protest short staffing, low wages and ongoing COVID concerns. KLCC was there.

Marching to a steady drumbeat, picketing caregivers march with signs and chant, “Don’t back down! Won’t back down.”

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Tiffany Eckert
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KLCC
Union healthcare workers take over the sidewalk outside PeaceHealth RiverBend Medical Center Tuesday to rally for better staffing, pay and COVID protections. This was not a work stoppage. Picketers marched during work breaks.

This is an informational picket, not a work stoppage. Organizers said workers want safe staffing and a fair labor contract—something they are still without.

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Tiffany Eckert
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KLCC
Savannah DeFord is a Certified Nursing Assistant and union member picketing outside PeaceHealth RiverBend Medical Center where she's worked for almost ten years.

Savannah DeFord is a Certified Nursing Assistant in the ICU. She said she was there, unmasked in 2020, when they intubated their first COVID patient in intensive care.

“I have literally been exposed to almost everything, in the years I’ve been here. And they should take care of us,” she insisted. We’re taking care of the business, which is what they care about—their income. And we’re the ones who come in. We’re the ones that put ourselves at risk to make that money. We deserve a fair share.”

DeFord said she brought COVID home in 2021, sickened her whole family and was only paid for two shifts over the 14 days she was off. There were questions from PeaceHealth Human Resources about whether she actually caught the virus "from her mail" instead of at work, she told KLCC. DeFord has worked at RiverBend Medical Center for 9 ½ years.

In a statement, PeaceHealth officials wrote “We remain deeply committed to our caregivers, and we are proud of the high-quality, compassionate care and service they provide to patients and the community.”

As workers in hospital scrubs and purple union tee shirts marched and chanted Tuesday afternoon, Eugene City Counselor Matt Keating and State Representatives Julie Fahey, John Lively, Nancy Nathanson huddled up with workers on the picket line to “show support and encouragement,” said Lively.

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Tiffany Eckert
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KLCC
Oregon House Representatives John Lively (foreground) and Julie Fahey (center) were two of many healthcare union advocates to show up in support of the picketing hospital workers.

Felisa Hagins is Political Director with Service Employees International Union-SEIU Local 49 said hospital caregivers deserve respect and acknowledgment of their value and worth. She added she believes these things can be reflected in a solid, fair labor contract.

In addition to this location at RiverBend in Springfield, SEIU member PeaceHealth caregivers held similar rallies Tuesday at Sacred Heart Medical Center University District and St. John Medical Center in Longview, Washington.

Some of the picketing workers wrote on social media that "understaffing, high-turnover, low wages, lack of affordable healthcare and lack of adequate COVID protections, like administrative paid time off when they test positive for COVID," could put patient safety at risk. Organizers said these are issues they are bargaining over in contract negotiations.

Union member hospital workers continued to carry signs and chant, “What’s this about? Patient care! What's it all about? Patient care!" The picket and rally lasted until 1pm.

The statement below is from PeaceHealth management, released while employees picketed outside three of their hospitals:

“SEIU’s informational picketing is not a strike nor a refusal to work and will have no impact on the accessibility to or care provided at our facilities. PeaceHealth respects the rights of our caregivers to participate in these kinds of activities as part of ongoing union contract negotiations. We remain deeply committed to our caregivers, and we are proud of the high-quality, compassionate care and service they provide to patients and the community. Our patients and their families can continue to count on us to deliver that care without interruption.”

Tiffany joined the KLCC News team in 2007. She studied journalism at the University of Missouri-Columbia and has worked in a variety of media including television and daily print news. For KLCC, Tiffany reports on health care, social justice and local/regional news. She has won awards from Oregon Associated Press, PRNDI, and Education Writers Association.