Carmen Erickson fought back tears as she made an impromptu, emotional appeal to about 100 people gathered Thursday to support nurses at St. Joseph Regional Medical Center who are negotiating a union contract.

A friend who is a nurse at the Lewiston hospital, Erickson said, is struggling greatly because of how hectic her time is at work.

Sometimes the friend is so busy caring for patients, she doesn’t have time to give updates to their relatives about their conditions, and by the time she can talk to family members, they may be angry with her because they have waited so long for information.

“Think what the hospital will be like if we don’t treat our nurses the way we wish our daughters or sons or loved ones to be treated,” Erickson said. “Then we are nothing as a community.”

Erickson spoke at a rally organized by Teamsters Local 690 in Spokane, the union representing St. Joe’s nurses, at Lewiston’s Pioneer Park, less than a block away from the hospital.

She followed leaders from unions representing firefighters and Clearwater Paper employees, who said they backed the nurses, and union officials who provided updates on how the talks are progressing.

Afterward many in the group traveled to Locomotive Park and stood visible to motorists holding signs that read “Support St. Joes Nurses” and “St. Joseph Nurses Deserve a Fair Contract!”

No one from the hospital spoke at the event, but a spokeswoman emailed a statement expressing support for the nurses’ right to assemble and speak freely.

“Especially during this pandemic, which has arguably been the most challenging situation the health care industry has faced, we want to recognize and support our clinical teams who have shined,” said St. Joe’s spokeswoman Sam Skinner.

The hospital is confident that its contract with the nurses will be “mutually agreeable,” she said.

As negotiations continue “we will not be distracted from providing excellent care to our patients and community,” Skinner said.

The nurses attending Thursday’s rally were doing so when they were off duty. The next round of talks is set for Wednesday and Thursday.

If those sessions aren’t productive, the union will consider an informational picket that would be outside the hospital and involve people carrying signs and passing out materials about the issues in the talks to community members, said Larry Kroetch, business agent for Teamsters Local 690.

“This is breaking the ice to see what kind of community support that we have and what people are willing to do,” he said.

Among the requests the nurses have are that the hospital follows nationally recognized safe nurse-to-patient ratios; maintains adequate support staff such as certified nursing assistants and administrative assistants; keeps a labor and management committee to create an open dialogue for safety issues; and restores a night pharmacy.

The night pharmacy was discontinued and now nurses are responsible for duties such as mixing prescriptions, Kroetch said.

Those working conditions are important partly because St. Joe’s nurses treat community members that include people that Spokane Local 690 represents in the Lewiston-Clarkston Valley, such as workers at Poe Asphalt and the UPS, he said.

“The Teamsters are not new to Lewiston,” he said.

Members of some unions in the area said they are following what happens with St. Joe’s nurses and are on their side.

“The fight against corporate greed is a monumental task, but it’s one that has to be fought,” said Brandon Barnea, of the International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers Local 73, a union that represents employees at Clearwater Paper.

Williams may be contacted at ewilliam@lmtribune.com or (208) 848-2261.

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