HERMISTON -Workers at Good Shepherd Medical Center are trying to form a union to solve problems like inadequate staffing, which they believe are resulting in poor patient care.
"I think us workers need to unite, and make it a better working environment," said Paula Ylarraz, an x-ray technician at Good Shepherd.
"When you are short-staffed, you are rushed ... and there is room for error. You aren't able to give the patient the care that they deserve," Ylarraz added.
Understaffing also burns out workers, and Ylarraz spoke of many who had left for better jobs with better pay elsewhere. Patients also are seeking care at other hospitals, Ylarraz contended.
All workers but nurses, who already have union representation, would be part of the new hospital union.
More than 75 percent of those 250 employees support a union, Ylarraz said.
A strong majority filed for a union election Monday. That election probably will happen in August, said Aaron McEmrys, a union organizer for the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees.
"The election will make it official, but a union comes into being when people start acting like a union, which has already happened," McEmrys said.
The push to create a union started more than two months ago, Ylarraz said.
Dennis Burke, president of Good Shepherd Health Care System, wondered how a union would change understaffing and pay issues, and said a union may not be in the best interests of employees.
He also said he was unaware of any situation where staffing has caused patient care problems, though he did recognize inadequate staffing as a chronic issue in the health care industry.
"There are not enough professional and technical individuals in the field," Burke said.
He added that even though the hospital has had a nurses union for years, there still is a nurse shortage.
"I think some of our employees have just heard the pro (union) side," Burke said.
Registered nurses at Good Shepherd are represented by the Oregon Nurses Association, which more than 9,000 nurses in the state belong to.
St. Anthony Hospital in Pendleton, Grande Ronde Hospital in La Grande and St. Elizabeth Hospital in Baker City have no unions representing workers other than the ONA, representatives said.
Unions representing hospital workers is becoming more common, though, McEmrys said.
"In the past few years, there's been an explosion of hospitals forming unions," he added.
Monday morning, about 30 workers, either on break or off duty, tried to speak briefly with Burke and hand him a union fair campaign practices pledge, Ylarraz and McEmrys said.
Burke's secretary wouldn't let the workers see him, Ylarraz and McEmrys said, saying that he had an appointment in 10 minutes.
The secretary also wouldn't take the letter, the employees said.
"Nobody would touch the paper, so we had to leave it on the counter," Ylarraz said.
"The workers were just absolutely hurt and infuriated" by the snub, McEmrys said.
Burke said he had an appointment, and that no one in administration knew what the workers were doing.
He added that the hospital administration would not sign the pledge, which was pro union, as it would be unfair to all workers.
"We have to not only guard the rights of those who are pro union, but also those who are against the union," Burke said.
He added that he has received complaints from anti-union employees, saying they are being pressured.
McEmrys said the hospital already has started an anti-union campaign and is telling employees "a lot of blatantly untrue things about the union."