All posts by Matt Hilton

Thank You for a Great Picket!

 

Approximately 1,500 people turned out on August 8 to support our union on the picket line. Please check out the event photo album and other picket posts on our Facebook page.

While the crowd consisted primarily of AFSCME Local 328 members, we were joined by supporters such as Jobs with Justice, teachers, postal workers, several AFSCME Council 75 locals (including OHSU Graduate Researchers United), the Oregon AFL-CIO, SEIU Local 49 and Operating Engineers. We were also quite pleased to see many coworkers represented by the Oregon Nurses Association marching alongside us. In addition, many employees brought members of their family, community or social circle.

Prior to the march, we heard from AFSCME International president Lee Saunders, who flew in from Washington, DC, specifically to support our picket, Oregon House of Representatives Majority Leader Jennifer Williamson, Oregon AFSCME executive director Stacy Chamberlain and others. 

Rep. Williamson also mentioned to our union leadership that she had called Connie Seeley — OHSU executive vice president, chief administrative officer and chief of staff — and made it abundantly clear how serious the Dan Forbes resignation and the lack of a contract settlement with our union are.

We’d like to express special thanks to OHSU’s department of public safety, which was extremely helpful with crowd control and pausing traffic as needed, ensuring our picket was safe for participants and for OHSU patients and visitors. 

Finally, we would like to thank all of our members who attended the picket — we couldn’t do any of this without you. We’re not just stronger together — we’re unstoppable.

What’s Happening with Bargaining?

 

As you’re likely aware, the Local 328 bargaining team recently put in 44 hours over three days of mediation, including a marathon session of 16 hours on June 28. Even so, these sessions didn’t result in an agreement. So, our bargaining team will go back into mediation with OHSU on July 19 and 23. As we go into our next mediation sessions, our union’s bargaining team is wholly committed to utilizing every possible option to get the best contract possible for our members.

Since our contract expired on June 30 and there’s been a gap between mediation days, some members are asking: Why aren’t we picketing yet? Why haven’t we voted for a strike yet? What’s taking so long? There are a number of reasons for this, but the most important one is this: the stakes are far too high to rush this process. This year is the best chance our union has ever had to get a good contract with no take-backs, for a number of reasons:

    • Our Members: It’s not an exaggeration to say that our members are more engaged than we’ve ever seen. In the post-Janus environment, union members across the country, including at OHSU, have seen what they stand to lose without a strong union. Many of us are struggling due to the economic reality of living in the Portland metro area today, and we’re not willing (or able) to accept financial take-backs from an employer that enjoys record profits year after year. Our members know what’s at stake with these negotiations.
    • Our Bargaining Team: It’s also not an exaggeration to say that our 2019 bargaining team is the most well-trained, most engaged team our union has had, due in part to a number of changes our union made for these negotiations. We changed the makeup of our bargaining team, going from a combination of sector and at-large reps to an all at-large team. We greatly expanded the role of member leaders in the negotiation and communication processes. We started training our team four months before bargaining began. We changed the negotiation style being used, going from interest-based to traditional bargaining.
    • OHSU: Our employer has a new president and a greater focus on growth, expansion and profit. More than ever before, OHSU has made it clear that it cares about little else other than its faculty and its bottom line — the employees who help the faculty and institution succeed seem to be an afterthought at best. The current culture at OHSU has created employees who have had enough and are willing to fight for a fair contract.

Between our rally at Mac Hall, our action at the OHSU board of directors meeting and our surprise picket at the Oregon AFSCME office, Local 328 members have shown the strength of collective action, and OHSU is keenly aware of our members’ engagement level.

Why Aren’t We Picketing Yet?: We are planning to hold an informational picket in early August. Why not sooner? Because it’s extremely important that we get the picket right. A rushed, poorly planned event with only a few hundred members in attendance won’t help us get a fair contract. An organized, well-planned picket with thousands in attendance, including community members and political allies, takes time to arrange. Our informational picket will be done right, and planning is underway. Please save the date of Thursday, August 8.

Why Haven’t We Had a Strike-Authorization Vote Yet?: This spring, thousands of members took our bargaining survey and indicated support for a strike. Our members should be aware, however, that our union requires more than just a majority of votes to authorize a strike — we must reach a certain threshold of voters for the vote to be valid, in order to ensure that enough members would support a strike. For example, if we held a vote in which 95% of the voters authorized a strike, but only 1,000 of our 5,000-plus members had voted, we would not go on strike. Simply stated, if a majority of our members won’t participate in a vote, it’s unlikely they would withhold their labor in large enough numbers for a strike to be effective. A successful strike-authorization vote will require broad outreach and communications, with bargaining-team members, stewards, AFSCME staff representatives, unit stewards and rank-and-file members actively working to get the word out. Although planning is taking place, as long as our union is still actively negotiating, our bargaining team must stay focused on the task of getting our members a fair contract at the table. If it becomes clear that we’ll be unable to reach an agreement with OHSU at the table, our union will hold a strike-authorization vote beginning on Monday, August 19, and will direct 100% of our attention and effort toward ensuring a successful vote. In the meantime, our members can help by talking about bargaining with coworkers and other AFSCME-represented employees, especially those who haven’t been paying as much attention to the process.

What’s Taking So Long?: Again, we’re still in mediation. We’re not at impasse. We don’t yet know what OHSU’s bottom line is. Our goal has always been to get our members a fair contract with no take-backs and that remains our goal, so we’ll participate in mediation as long as we’re seeing progress toward that goal. A lot of the mediation process involves confidential “supposals” that can indicate where the parties might be willing to move, as well as packaged proposals that can indicate what the parties’ priorities are. Although it might not seem like it from the outside, movement is being made (albeit slowly), so it makes sense to continue with mediation at this time. There’s too much at stake to rush the process. In the event that impasse is declared, we’re legally required to then wait a minimum of 37 days (for final offers/costing and a cooling-off period) before we can strike. This is a marathon, not a sprint — it could be days, weeks or even months before we get to the finish line. In the meantime, please join us on Tuesday, July 16, at one of our drop-in sessions or at our town hall.

Our members’ ongoing support and engagement is greatly appreciated by our team and has been so valuable to the bargaining process. We are stronger together!

SOLIDARITY.

We Greened-Out the Board!

 

June 27 marked another historic day for AFSCME Local 328. We don’t believe that our members have ever before marched into a meeting of the OHSU board of directors. We were expecting a good turnout for this event, but the unprecedented number of members who showed up today blew away our expectations. More than 100 Local 328 members and allies filled the room, to the point that some folks had to stand. 

While it was disappointing that we weren’t able to deliver our statement to the board directly, our mere presence and the sea of green sent a strong message. Our members were respectful and courteous as we filled the room, stayed for the initial remarks and showed OHSU what solidarity looks like. We’re so proud of everyone who attended.

After filing out of the meeting room, we gathered outside the Robertson Life Sciences Building and held a brief rally, where Local 328 president Matt Hilton delivered the statement that had been prepared for the board. The cheers and enthusiastic support of our members meant a great deal to our bargaining-team members who were in attendance or watching on social media. Shortly after the event concluded, a copy of our statement was sent to Connie Seeley, OHSU’s executive vice president/chief administrative officer/chief of staff, to distribute to the board of directors.

Our statement can be read below. Photos of the event can be found on our Facebook and Twitter pages. If you participated and took photos today, please feel free to share them with us.

Make no doubt, our union has clearly communicated to OHSU that our members are engaged and paying attention. We are optimistic that management will work with our union to reach an agreement a fair contract that shows they recognize the value our almost 7,000 represented employees bring to OHSU. With mediation starting again on Friday, we’re about to find out. 


Dr. Jacobs and members of the OHSU board, my name is Matt Hilton and I am speaking on behalf of AFSCME Local 328. I’d like to ask those who are here today in support of our union to please rise. Thank you for hearing us.

Workers at OHSU democratically chose AFSCME as their voice back in 1985. Our union currently represents about 7,000 employees in more than 300 different job classifications at OHSU. Our bargaining unit covers not just workers in the Portland metro area, but also those from Astoria to Ashland, from Longview to La Grande.

Many AFSCME-represented employees have dedicated a significant portion of their working lives to this employer and to serving OHSU’s mission — by supporting nationally recognized patient care, by ensuring research grants are processed accurately, by helping educate the next generation of medical professionals, by keeping OHSU’s patients and employees fed and its facilities functional.

Some of us remember when we lost coworkers and friends to mass layoffs about 10 years ago during the recession. Many of us remember when a 6% pension contribution was shifted to be funded out of our pockets in 2012. Most of us remember the 2015 change that increased by 30% the amount of time it takes to reach the top of our earning potential. Since then we’ve worked under various cost containment measures, but continue to shine and show admirable dedication and compassion, day after day.

In 2018, AFSCME surveyed our members about housing issues. 40% of respondents reported difficulty in making a housing payment during the past year. The same number reported spending 40% or more of their take-home pay on rent or mortgage payments, with 16% saying they spend more than half of their take-home pay on housing. More than 40% reported moving at least once in the past five years in order to find more affordable housing, with more than 10% reporting having moved at least three times in the past five years. As our region continues to change and grow, economic insecurity is a concern for more and more OHSU employees. As you’re well aware, OHSU is experiencing record profits. As you’re equally aware, OHSU and AFSCME are currently engaged in collective bargaining.

Record profits for an employer shouldn’t mean record-out-of-pocket costs for employees, many of whom are already struggling financially. As the sole academic medical center in the state of Oregon—one whose stated mission includes improving the health and well-being of all Oregonians, no less—it is very difficult to reconcile a proposal designed to make covering one’s spouse on the OHSU health plan so financially onerous that employees would be forced to move their spouses to a worse health-insurance plan. In many cases, the employer-provided plans OHSU has proposed we shunt our spouses to are literally the legally allowable minimum, with additional fees, copays and restrictive networks.

At the bargaining table, OHSU’s team asked our union’s team what the market rationale is for asking OHSU to subsidize other employers’ health care costs. Rather than thinking of it those terms, we feel it’s more appropriate to ask why the health and wellbeing of all Oregonians doesn’t include that of OHSU’s own employees’ loved ones. It should also be noted that as a public employer, OHSU benefits from a tort cap and a medical-malpractice cap, and receives public funding, including 200-million dollars to prime the pump for the Knight Challenge. Simply stated, OHSU enjoys significant public benefits that other employers do not.

In terms of OHSU’s PTO proposal, HR representatives have mentioned many times that PTO offers more flexibility. This may be true for salaried managers and faculty who don’t need to make up time when they need to leave work early to take care of a sick child or when they need to come in late due to a medical appointment, but it certainly isn’t true for those of us who punch a clock and must account for every hour of our workday. HR has also stated that PTO is an attractive recruiting tool. Our members believe that things like affordable medical benefits, and wages that keep up with the cost of living, are far better at attracting and retaining employees.

Many of the unclassified employees who were forced into the PTO system didn’t want to make the switch. OHSU’s nurses made it clear with their last contract that they have no interest in PTO. AFSCME and our members were clear we didn’t want to switch to this system in 2017 and we don’t want it now.

Please understand that AFSCME’s goal is to reach a fair and equitable contract with OHSU. We want OHSU to succeed — but that success should lift all boats. Shared sacrifice should at times be offset by shared prosperity. Our members have been loyal to this employer, even during tough times, and we’re an important part of OHSU’s success. We shouldn’t be faced with a contract that would lower our standard of living and that would, in many instances, affect our ability to afford to even continue working at OHSU.

On behalf of the AFSCME Local 328 bargaining team and the almost 7,000 OHSU employees that we represent, thank you for your time and consideration.

Strike FAQ

Below is a comprehensive strike-related FAQ that we hope is helpful to our members. If you have additional questions after reviewing this information, please ask in the comments.

Q: What happens if the Local 328 and OHSU bargaining teams can’t reach agreement by the end of our contract (June 30)? A: A better question might be “What if the teams aren’t continuing movement toward an agreement by the end of our contract?” It’s a well-established practice to temporarily extend a contract as negotiations require. Some members may recall our 2012 contract negotiations, which were extended into September. If movement isn’t being made, though, either party can declare impasse.

Q: What is a strike? A: A strike is a mass work stoppage by employees, used at times to prevent an employer from forcing economic concessions and take-backs on employees. Typically, a strike is used as a last resort, when all other options have been exhausted. For a union to go on strike, a strong majority of its membership must support the strike. A strike is usually reserved for when an employer is being especially unfair, unreasonable and unnecessary with its demands and conditions. Unions get their power from their members’ willingness to withhold their labor.

Q: What can we do to avoid a strike? A: The best way to avoid a strike is to let OHSU know that you’re paying attention and taking bargaining seriously. In addition:

  • If you haven’t yet done so, please take our current bargaining survey and make your voice heard. We’ll be using your our members’ feedback to shape our strategy during mediation.
  • Attend the upcoming joint OHSU/AFSCME town hall on Wednesday, May 22, from 12 noon to 1:00 p.m. in UHS 8B60. OHSU will have the opportunity to explain its proposals and you will have the opportunity to share how OHSU’s take-backs will impact you and your family.
  • ATTEND OUR INFORMATIONAL PICKET! On Thursday, June 13, Local 328 members and our allies and community will march on Marquam Hill from 4:00 – 5:30 p.m. and then enjoy a member-appreciation BBQ/picnic on the Mac Hall lawn. Families are welcome. Short of a strike, this picket will be one of the best tools we have to show how OHSU that its record profits shouldn’t mean record out of pockets for the employees who’ve helped OHSU become so successful.
  • Like us on Facebook and Twitter and share our posts and tweets.
  • Visit our blog on a regular basis and leave comments. We know that management reads our blog, so this is a way to make your voice heard.
  • Wear green on Tuesdays.
  • Hold work-unit events to build solidarity. (We can send you green doughnuts for unity breaks!)
  • Talk to your unit steward about Local 328 events in your area. If you don’t have a unit steward, consider becoming the unit steward for your area — email us for more information.

Q: How would Local 328 call a strike? A: Our members would be given advance notice of the date for a strike vote to take place. Over the voting period, members will vote by a private, secure ballot. There will be resources available for members who need help casting their ballots. A variety of materials will also be available to help members understand the stakes and what exactly their vote is authorizing. There are many steps to even get to this point, though. After impasse is declared, our union would have seven days to present a final offer and then there would be a 30-day cooling-off period; following that, after 10 day’s notice, a strike vote would take place.

Q: Do I have to be a dues-paying member to vote on a strike? A: Yes — decisions like this will always only be made by our dues-paying membership. If you’re a represented employee who is not currently paying dues, you may sign a union membership card and participate in the strike vote.

Q: Does Local 328 have any official policies/procedures regarding strikes? A: Going out on a strike is a very serious thing. It disrupts the lives of our members and their families, our patients, our colleagues and our communities. Local 328 policy states that in in order for a strike to be called, it has to be supported by 60% of our membership. That’s not 60% of those voting — that’s 60% of the full dues-paying membership. Why is the threshold so high? If our members can’t be bothered to vote on whether to strike, the idea our union could sustain a successful strike isn’t realistic.

Q: What happens if OHSU is still proposing take-backs at the end of bargaining but Local 328 members don’t want to strike? A: Ultimately, OHSU would be able to implement its final proposal, which will likely include PTO, cuts to vacation cash-out, health-insurance take-backs, wage increases that don’t keep up with cost of living, stricter monitoring of attendance and other language that will hurt our members financially and make OHSU a worse place to work. Our members must be willing to take direct action themselves — including by going out on strike if needed — to prevent OHSU’s bad proposals from going into effect.

Q: If Local 328 calls a strike, do I have to go out and walk the picket line? A: If our union calls a strike, it will be because thousands and thousands of AFSCME-represented OHSU employees have found OHSU’s proposals so intolerable that they were willing to walk off the job. PLEASE join them on the picket line. Having a strong picket line every day of a strike is crucial. A well-attended picket line ensures the strike continues to receive the attention it needs — from OHSU, of course, and from patients, the media and other supporters. If you can’t join us on the picket line, consider other actions in support of the strike: write letters to the editor, participate in community-service projects, call your elected officials, speak at public meetings and otherwise try to raise awareness of the strike. The public must be aware of what we’re striking for.

Q: If our union is out on strike, what happens if I cross the picket line? A: First, if you plan on crossing the picket line when our union is on strike, please vote against a strike. Recognizing that a strong majority of your peers and coworkers will be financially sacrificing to improve your wages and working conditions — do you have to strike? No, and our union does not fine strike-breakers. However, by crossing the picket line, you would be weakening the strike, hurting your coworkers who are out on the picket line and threatening everyone’s chances to get a fair contract.

Q: What will happen to the patients if I go out on strike? A: OHSU has been preparing for the possibility of a strike since early in bargaining. OHSU will have ample time to prepare for any mission-critical staffing and ensure patient safety.

Q: What’s expected of non-members during the strike? A: Nothing, but we’d love the support of non-members in any way they choose to show it.

Q: Will Local 328 help cover my wages while I’m out on strike? A: Per our union’s constitution, we are required to have a contract-defense fund, aka a strike fund. Typically these funds are used for expenses related to contract bargaining or advanced representation (e.g., for arbitrations). Practically speaking, if we wanted to provide every member $500 at the start of a strike, it would cost about $3,000,000; unfortunately, our treasury can’t sustain that sort of expense. For members who would be in financial need, we do have relationships with the Oregon Food Bank and Labor’s Community Service Agency. We also would call upon all available resources available to us from Oregon AFSCME Council 75, the Oregon AFL-CIO, AFSCME International and any other supportive organizations.

Q: What happens to my health-insurance coverage if I go out on strike? A: OHSU is pay-as-you-go, which means that if you work even one day in a month you have health-insurance coverage for the whole month. We would time any strike so that members would be guaranteed a month of health-insurance coverage while on strike.

Q: What if I don’t think I can afford to go on strike? A: This concern is understood and respected. We would first encourage you to read our “S Word” article about financial options that can help during a strike. We would also ask you to weigh the cost of a strike to you personally vs. the cost to you for two years’ worth of OHSU’s take-backs. It’s likely that the long-term financial gains of a good contract would greatly outweigh the wages lost during an effective strike.

Q: Can I use vacation or sick accruals, or comp time, to cover my pay while I’m on strike? A: No — accruals cannot be used while an employee is on strike.

Q: What if I have vacation pre-approved and we end up going on strike during that time? Can I still take my vacation? A: Probably not. OHSU would most likely declare an emergency and cancel vacations. Our union would grieve this, but by the time the grievance process ran its course, the strike would be over. If OHSU cancels your vacation and orders you to work, you have the legal right to inform your manager that you are on strike and will not be returning to work until the strike is settled, but you wouldn’t get to use your vacation accruals.

Q: Can I work remotely during a strike? A: Virtually crossing a picket line is the same as physically crossing a picket line.

Q: How long would we need to be on strike? A: There really is no way to predict this. However, the more employees who go out and stay out, the greater the pressure put on the employer to settle and the more quickly the strike should be resolved.

Q: Can I be fired or otherwise retaliated against for going on strike? A: Absolutely not. Striking is a legally protected activity.

Q: What does the Local 328 bargaining team and member leadership do during a strike? Are they paid during a strike? A: All bargaining-team members, all members out on paid union leave to help with bargaining and all executive-board members are expected to walk the picket line, as well as participate in applicable meetings and events. None of the above parties would be paid during a strike; monthly officer stipends would be not be paid (or, if applicable, would be pro-rated based on the length of the strike).

Q: Do strikes work? A: From the Flint autoworkers’ sit-down strike, to the AFSCME Memphis sanitation workers’ strike, to the waves of teacher strikes over the last couple of years, strikes have absolutely worked and shaped working conditions and community standards for working people all across the country, not just for union members.

Q: How often does bargaining happen? A: It varies. Our current contract is a four-year agreement, and we’ve previously had three-year contracts. This year, Local 328 has proposed a two-year contract. All of these are considered typical.

Q: What if I’m unhappy about the outcome after everything is said and done and we finally have a new contract? A: Why not consider getting involved and taking action NOW — it’s not too late to help our union avoid a contract that you would unhappy with! Forward our emails to and talk with your coworkers, comment on our blog, take our bargaining survey, and participate in our actions and events to start. After our next contract is ratified, there is a lot you can do to get involved: observe a board meeting, write an article for our blog, become a steward or run for an executive-board seat (all of our board positions are up for election this fall). Assuming we reach an agreement on a two-year contract, we will back at the bargaining table with OHSU in only 16 months. Start thinking about the issues now and start talking to your coworkers now. What is a priority issue that OHSU didn’t recognize this time? How can we organize to win on this issue? Consider running for the bargaining team or the strike-preparation committee we’ll be forming for future contract negotiations (details to be announced at a later date).

Member Input Needed

In a perfect world, OHSU would understand that its proposals are unreasonable, unfair and unnecessary and pull them from the table. In the real world, if our members want our union to settle, it is extremely likely that our next agreement will include PTO, higher health-insurance costs, and other undesirable contract language. If, however, our members let us know they are willing to withhold their labor, our bargaining team’s responses to OHSU at the table will reflect the will — and the power — of our membership.

It has never been more important that we hear from our members. Please take our members-only bargaining survey now  and share the link with your AFSCME coworkers. Since we start mediation on May 21, the sooner you take the survey the better.

Our bargaining team has been your voice at the table for months, but we simply cannot fight OHSU’s bad proposals alone. As the end of our current contract nears, we need our members to tell OHSU that enough is enough. In the end, a strong majority of our membership must be willing to take direct action themselves in order to prevent OHSU’s proposals from going into effect.



We don’t have the ability to just say no to OHSU at the bargaining table, unfortunately. Under the PECBA statute, if either team declares impasse and Local 328 is unable to reach an agreement with OHSU after a cooling-off period, OHSU will be able to implement what’s called a last, best and final offer. Unless there is a strike, if this final offer includes PTO and the health-insurance take-backs, then those will go into effect.

While our contract remains in effect until June 30, Local 328 members need to start thinking now about what sort of future they want and what they’re willing to do about it. If the survey responses show that our union has strong member support for a formal work stoppage, that doesn’t mean we will go on strike at this point. A strike is the last option in a long process, and we have a variety of tools we can use before it comes to that.