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personal stories from OHSU nurses explaining why they are striking

personal stories from OHSU nurses explaining why they are striking
Nurse (names taken out for privacy), two years at OHSU, Pediatric Oncology and Bone Marrow Transplant Team:

Q. Why did you vote to reject the latest contract offer by OHSU?

A. I love the kids I care for and I don't want to go on strike, but I think that the big issue here has to do with the nursing shortage. The only way to do something is to pay nurses closer to what we deserve so that good experienced nurses stay in the profession and potential nurses enter nursing school. I genuinely feel our country is heading toward a health care crisis in the next five to ten years if something isn't done about the nursing shortage.

Q. You are new in this profession. Have you ever regretted becoming a nurse?

A. Sometime I feel like, what was I thinking, I'm working so hard! I did it for love; most nurses do this for love. I mean you work thirteen hours and don't get to eat. You cry from the stress. I think what I've been doing up to this point is enabling a dysfunctional system by accepting inadequate pay and poor staffing, which keeps the system going. My patients deserve more. I realize that during the strike it may be painful for me to not take care of my kids, but this is the way of not enabling that system anymore.

Q. You work with families in crisis. How are they responding to the likelihood of a strike?

A. Some families are understandably upset and frightened and feel as though they're being abandoned, but most who have talked to me about it have expressed their support for the strike and the nurses. I think that is really amazing. Ask the parents how they feel about how hard we work. They know.

Nurse, 36 years at OHSU, Neonatal Intensive Care Unit :

Q. Why did you vote to reject OHSU latest contract offer?

A. I trained here. I'm loyal to OHSU and I hate to see a strike happen. I voted "no" for the future of nursing. I want to make sure people keep going into nursing and get compensated. I want to have someone to take care of me when I get older. It's not a big thing for me financially because I'm probably going to retire soon.

Q. You have worked at OHSU a very long time. How have working conditions changed?

A. I've been working with babies for my entire career except early on when I was in pediatrics. The nurse to patient ratio has changed in last ten years to more patients per nurse. Economics are the reason. Each nurse used to care one or two infants; it's three or four.

Q. Why do you think young people are not interested in nursing as a career?

A. Young people feel they can make more money doing something else. They may have heard from relatives and friends that nurses are feeling not very well supported by administration and that staffing is adequate. They may have heard that nurses have too many patients to take care of and are not able to take the kind care they'd like to.

Q. Do you worry about being able to properly care for your patients?

A. Not every day but sometimes. I also worry about some of the nurses getting burned out! I'd like to see a settlement that is fair to both sides. I'd like management to be responsive to our needs.

Nurse, 28 years at OHSU, Intensive Care Unit :

Q. Why did you vote to reject OHSU latest contract offer?

A. I'm supporting a strike this time because the morale just keeps getting worse. The contract battles get worse. There is no respect for the nurses and what we do. Management thinks they can just replace us easily. There used to be much more respect and recognition but over the last ten years it has gotten worse. Now nurses only get recognized if they're being chastised. There is nothing to pull people into the profession anymore, certainly for young nurses. You can get a nursing degree and become a drug or equipment representative and make much more. There isn't going to be anyone to take care of you and me when we get old. I always said I'd never strike but I'm sick of it. The last two negotiations have been really disappointing. I was appalled that management didn't even come back to the last mediation session with anything. Their attitude is that a nurse is a nurse is a nurse and that's not true. We're specialized and they can't just bring anybody in off the street to replace us. I want to better the profession. We need something to attract the nurses to the profession because its really hard work and we need to be compensated for what we're doing.

Nurse, seven years at OHSU, Float Pool :

Q. Why did you vote to reject OHSU's final contract offer?

A. I voted no on the OHSU contract proposal because of the insurance increases. If we didn't have the increasing insurance I think 11 percent is not bad for a salary increase. I'm also very concerned this will affect staffing. We try to attract more nurses to our facility but OSHU has 11 or 12 percent of its positions unfilled as it is.

Q. What are working condition like at OHSU?

A. As a float nurse I work in different departments. It used to be we had some calm times. Now it is never calm. There are no breaks. We do the best we can to take care of the patients. Nurses do their best, but I'm worried if the staffing gets worse patients will be affected.

Nurse, 13 years at OHSU, Renal Transplant Team :

Q. Why did you vote to reject OHSU's latest contract offer?

A. For me its supply verses demand. Nurses have fixed the holes in staffing on the short term for years and years and they're tired of doing so. We need management to come up with a long-term solution to the nursing shortage and what they have on the table doesn't do it for me.

Q. Some people are saying nurses make enough already. How do you respond to that?

A. I was at dinner the other night with a dental hygienist and she told me she earns $32 an hour. I was shocked. Nursing jobs require us to be physically, emotionally and mentally fit and for what we do and the responsibility we have we are not overpaid.

Q. Is this about money for you?

A. No. For me this isn't about money but about the nursing shortage. I would work for the same pay but I want to work less hard. I've done this for ten years and it has always been busy. I work full-time but average 5 to 10 hours overtime per week. Most days are stressful. Each coordinator has to do a lot to get the job done so they can go home at the end of the day.

Nurse, 17 years at OHSU, Poison Control Center :

Q. Why did you vote to reject OHSU's latest contract offer?

A. I've always supported the union. It has done an enormous amount of work for the nurses at OHSU. It has backed us up on many issues. I'm pleased that if someone brings a problem to the unit the union tries to solve it. The reason I am for the strike is I want OHSU showing respect and appreciation for the nurses through bargaining. OHSU just didn't show any response, appreciation or even acknowledgement of what nurses contribute here. So it's really more for emotional reasons that I'm for money. It's a big issue, the benefits and the salary, but it's really how they don't respect nurses.

Q. OHSU management says it can replace striking nurses. How do you feel about that?

A. Of course they can do it but I don't know how well they can. We have experienced nurses here that know Portland, the hill and have knowledge specific to nursing at OHSU. I don't think they can replace us.

Q. Why do you stay at OHSU when there are so many job openings for nurses elsewhere?

A. Why do I stay? I must like it here, the environment and the job. I love my co-workers, especially now. They've been just wonderful.

Nurse, 20 years at OHSU, 14 as a nurse, Labor and Delivery :

Q. Why did you vote to reject OHSU's latest contract offer?

A. We all feel there is a shortage of nurses. We want to be able to welcome new nurses but without adequate compensation they go elsewhere. Since this is predominately a woman's profession we've been overlooked. Many of us are in our 30s and 40s and we're sick of that! It's a chronic shortage. Most people that aren't nurses don't know that they work us and work us and then offer not even enough of an increase to cover insurance. We've all been putting in extra hours for years and years because of the staffing shortage. Things aren't getting better. They're getting worse.

Q. You are interested in someday pursuing a master's degree in nursing. How do you feel about the cap on tuition assistance for nurses?

A. All of us spend years educating student nurses, physician assistants and medical students. When it's our time to improve our skills and education OHSU is saying the help may not be there. This is very discouraging.