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OR Hospital Workers Hold COVID-19 Vigil, Call for Action

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Wednesday, April 7, 2021   

PORTLAND, Ore. - Hospital workers in Portland are calling for action and holding vigils today to mark more than a year of struggle against COVID-19.

Members of the Oregon Nurses Association and SEIU Local 49 also want Legacy Health to finish negotiating contracts with their members. ONA and Local 49 are to hold a vigil this evening to honor those who lost their lives during the pandemic.

Christine Allen, a nurse at the Legacy Unity Center for Behavioral Health and vice-chair of ONA's bargaining team, said nurses feel their concerns aren't heard or suggestions aren't being incorporated in the workplace.

"There was instances around COVID-related things where that continued to happen between the nursing staff and Legacy leadership," she said. "So, it's a continuation of the ongoing problem, which is why we organized in the first place - to ensure that our voices are heard."

About 200 Oregon Nurses Association members at Legacy have been bargaining with management on an initial contract for more than a year. Allen noted that the changes due to COVID-19, such as virtual meetings rather than in-person, have prolonged the bargaining process.

Spokesperson Brian Terrett said Legacy Health has been "working collaboratively with union leadership to ensure employees are competitively and fairly compensated and have a safe work environment."

In addition to the vigil, SEIU Local 49 is holding an information picket for its 800 Legacy Emanuel Medical Center members in negotiations for their new contract for about seven months.

Sunita Patel cleans rooms on the environmental services team at Legacy Emanuel, where she's worked for 18 years. She said workers haven't received hazard pay during the pandemic, and she and her colleagues had their daily work shifts cut to seven-and-a-half hours "but we're doing the work of maybe 12 hours.

"I have 26 rooms in my unit, which is almost full every day - like there's overflow today, too," she said."We can't say to patients, 'Hey we can't clean your room.'"

A Legacy Health spokesman said the company "respects SEIU Local 49's right to engage in protected union activity."

Patel said two crucial parts of their contract are making sure health care is affordable and that workers receive pay raises.

The information picket will begin at 11 a.m. at Legacy Emanuel Medical Center. The candlelight vigil will begin at 6 p.m. at the Unity Center for Behavioral Health.

Disclosure: SEIU Local 49 contributes to our fund for reporting on Livable Wages/Working Families, Social Justice. If you would like to help support news in the public interest, click here.


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