Healthcare

Logan Health Nurses Authorize Three-Day Unfair Labor Practice Strike

Nurses have not yet delivered 10-day strike notice and say they wish to continue negotiating, but accuse management of retaliation and violating federal labor law

By Myers Reece
Nurses and staff picket in front of Kalispell Regional Healthcare in Kalispell on Feb. 23, 2021. Hunter D’Antuono | Flathead Beacon

Nurses at Logan Health, formerly Kalispell Regional Healthcare, have “overwhelmingly” voted to authorize a three-day unfair labor practice strike if management “continues to refuse to bargain in good faith,” while accusing hospital officials of engaging in practices that violate federal labor law.

Logan Health officials have maintained that nurses are misrepresenting negotiations and making unrealistic demands.

Nurses say they don’t want to take time away from patients but will strike “if that is what it takes to send a message to management that the unfair labor practices must stop.” If a strike is called, nurses will deliver the required 10-day notice to management but say they will continue to be available to bargain during those 10 days in the hope of reaching an agreement on a contract.

“Management has said they take an enormous amount of pride in the nurses and the exceptional work we do serving all across the system,” SEIU Healthcare 1199NW bargaining team member and registered nurse Julie Anderson said. “Yet, during bargaining, they disrespect us and dismiss our concerns. We’re not asking for donuts and empty words.”

“We’re asking for safe staffing ratios, benefits that don’t charge single parents an extra $1,200 a year and wages that are comparable with other large Montana hospitals,” Anderson continued. “We have given them so many chances to ‘do the right thing’ and bargain in good faith. The goal has always been to get a fair contract. We don’t want to strike, but we will if we have to.”

Logan Health released a statement Wednesday afternoon, noting that management hadn’t received a strike notice and that a “vote to authorize a strike does not mean that a strike will happen.”

“However, we’re disappointed that the SEIU would encourage nurses to choose to turn their backs on their patients in an attempt to manipulate management,” the statement read. “The hospital will not abandon patients. Should the SEIU force a strike, we are prepared to continue operations and have plenty of nurses who will step in to take care of those who need them.”

The strike authorization announcement came just before a planned negotiation yesterday, and while a nurse on the bargaining team said this morning that nurses weren’t pleased with management’s offerings at the meeting, it was still unclear when or if nurses would deliver their 10-day strike notice. 

“At this point, we can assume that it’s possible that a strike notice could be given this week,” Amy Clark with SEUI Healthcare 1199NW, which is representing the nurses, said on May 19. “But it’s also possible that they won’t. There’s more bargaining next week. Their focus is on continuing to bargain.”

Over the last 18 months, nurses say they have been negotiating for a “fair union contract that would recruit and retain the top-quality nurses Kalispell deserves and give nurses a voice in patient care.”

“But every step of the way, KRH/Logan Health management has stalled at the bargaining table, refused to respond to the nurses’ contract proposals, and has tried to intimidate union nurses,” the SEUI press release stated. “All of these practices are illegal under federal labor law.”

In a secret-ballot election overseen by the National Labor Relations Board on July 11-12, 2019, KRH nurses voted 372-199 to unionize. The vote created a bargaining unit of roughly 650 nurses across the health system, including Kalispell Regional Medical Center, The HealthCenter, Brendan House and other clinics, but not including North Valley Hospital.

Since bargaining began in fall 2019, nurses have proposed staffing increases on all units; a nurse staffing committee to give nurses a voice in staffing decisions across the health system; and wages and benefits that will “recruit and retain top-quality staff to care for the Flathead Valley community.”

“While administrators at Logan Health say they do not have the resources to invest in frontline staff, they have put time and money into acquiring new facilities and launching an expensive rebranding initiative,” SEUI stated.

Logan Health officials have said the levels of compensation increases and other demands requested by nurses are unreasonable.

“The union alleges that KRH is unwilling to address compensation, but the union’s insistence of these unrealistic proposals is limiting the progress of bargaining,” Chief Nursing Officer Ryan Pitts and Human Resources Executive Director Brian Mathews wrote in a memo to nursing staff before the nurses held a Feb. 23 picket

“KRH has shown its commitment to wages and benefits — we’ve improved wages, health insurance, and the retirement plan for all non-union employees in the past 18 months,” they continued. “While SEIU blames KRH, the reality is that SEIU is responsible for how slow the negotiating process is proceeding, and their demands are unrealistic when compared to other hospitals in the state.”

The day after the strike authorization was announced, the hospital announced that it has officially completed the transition from KRH to Logan Health, which officials called “a step that will bring consistency and connectivity to services across the system.”

“This is an exciting time for Logan Health,” Dr. Craig Lambrecht, Logan Health’s president and chief executive officer, said in a May 19 statement. “The work we have done, the relationships we’ve built and the market place has brought us all together under one, new unified banner to make us stronger and ready for the future.”

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