Category Archives: Working at OHSU

How Do NIH Cuts Affect Local 328 Members?

IN MY OPINION: By Tara Karnes

How does the National Institutes of Health’s proposed 18% budget cut on research affect me?

I am not in research and my work, as a custodian, seems far removed from the national debate on NIH budget cuts. I mean; a eighteen percent budget cut does not seem like much. So, why would this concern me?

Well, for one thing my job is to clean the Bio Medical Research building at Oregon Health and Science University. And I hear things.

Down those hallways I hear the hum of ultracentrifuges; cranky large freezers holding cells or proteins, and what else… I do not know. I pick up the garbage and sweep up used Pasteur pipettes under the feet of upcoming research scientists. Many of whom, spend hours attached to microscopes like a stereotypical cliché mad scientist. Sweeping underfoot of these researchers I listen to their conversations and concerns, worries and fears about how NIH budget cuts will effect their work, and so… I decide to do some research about this issue on my own.

Here is what I discovered…
The goal of the NIH’s mission is to seek fundamental knowledge about the nature and behavior of living systems and the application of that knowledge to enhance health, lengthen life, and reduce illness and disability. That sounds pretty good since health care is a major concern for most people. I know this personally; because my daughter had a tumor and was given a cadaver bone transplant replacing a cervical bone in her neck. Knowledge from research allowed a team of doctors repair my daughter’s health.
What does an NIH budget-cut mean?

The proposed budget for NIH is a 18% deficit in their budget. The equivalent of a 5.8 Billion dollars!And according to NIH director, Francis Collins, he says, funding research offers short and long-term benefits, both by developing new treatments for deadly diseases such as cancer and diabetes, as well as stimulating the economy.
In fact, for every $1.00 invested in the NIH returns $2.00 dollars in goods and services to the economy within a year! That is something we need! Right?!

We not only care about healthcare but we care about our economy too right? I know I do! Our government’s administration has plans to slash NIH overhead cost payments to universities and research institutes. Hey wait a minute! I work at a university and in a research building!

Oregon numbers FY 2016
• $275 million in NIH funding
• 616 NIH grants awarded
• 43 NIH-funded institutions
• 41 NIH-supported clinical trials initiated at Oregon institutions
• 26 Oregon businesses received NIH funding totaling $21 million

Each grant awarded by the NIH means jobs. Not just research jobs, but jobs for students, and office jobs, like clinical coordinators, and of course my JOB! Under each researcher is a host of other jobs that support that research.

That is pretty important is me and it should be to you too!

As a AFSCME union member I want to encourage all fellow members to ask your unit stewards about the NIH budget cuts and how those cuts will effect our OHSU jobs, people you know and the community.

Please feel free to contact me directly at karnes@ohsu.edu
I will be happy to share what I have learned so far in my own research of NIH budget cuts.

If you are as concerned as I am, please email your representative.
To contact, and look up, your personal representative go to http://www.house.gov/representatives and also share your message with:

U.S. Rep. Greg Walden, chair of the House Energy and Commerce Committee, https://walden.house.gov/contact-greg
U.S. Senators Jeff Merkley https://www.merkley.senate.gov/contact
and Ron Wyden https://www.wyden.senate.gov/contact/

Referenced:

https://www.statnews.com/2017/03/16/trump-budget-science-research
https://www.usatoday.com/story/news/nation/2014/04/23/nih-budget-cuts/8056113/
https://www.nih.gov/about-nih/what-we-do/mission-goals

More “Hands On” Supervision In Food And Nutrition

In Food and Nutrition Patient services, nearly one hundred employees help to prepare and transport meals to patients. Generally these meals are prepared, loaded on to trays, and then placed in carts that are then transported to room service associates on the corresponding nursing unit.

Every day in the morning and the evening, there is a “stand-up” meeting in the kitchen for food service workers.

During the stand-ups, the manager on duty will gather everyone in a circle and go over important updates for the day. While a stand-up is in progress, patient meals still need to be delivered, so occasionally a room service associate will come down to the kitchen to grab their cart of patient meals, in an effort to not interrupt the stand-up meeting and ensure the patients are receiving their meals on time.

On Sunday March 12, during a daily afternoon “stand-up” meeting for food service workers in the kitchen, a supervisor grabbed a worker by the arm and yanked them.

In this instance, a room service associate came down to retrieve their cart, and one of the food service workers saw them waiting outside of the stand-up circle. The food service worker silently grabbed their cart and began to wheel it toward the waiting worker through the stand-up circle, when the supervisor grabbed him by the arm and yanked them away from the cart. The pull was enough to throw the worker off balance, in front of the entire staff assembled for the meeting. According to many witnesses of the event, there was no imminent danger to the employee that would explain this action.

This event bears a resemblance to the recent event in which an employee was pushed by a superior in the kitchen, which has put some of the workers in the kitchen on high alert, for fear they will be grabbed or shoved by a manager and have to go through the same lengthy process that it took for the previous matter of physically inappropriate behavior by a superior in the kitchen to be settled.

We are hoping that OHSU will take the correct action in this matter.

Maria Frazier loved her job

Maria Frazier loved her job.

Last week, Maria and her mother drove to the AFSCME office on Burnside to talk to us about the events following her discovery of a small noose in her workplace. During our conversation, she kept coming back to that — she loved her job. She was good at it. She helped patients.

That’s what makes the events following the noose incident painful. In the long run, Maria’s love for her job didn’t seem to matter very much to the people who were responsible for ensuring that OHSU is a safe, harassment-free workplace.

She recalled the events of that day: “I was walking through the office and ran into the practice administrator. I showed him the noose and he said he had to take it down. He hadn’t seen it before. There were other people in the office but they didn’t say anything or remark on it. I was with a coworker and she said this was unacceptable. [The practice administrator] took it down and I walked to my desk. I showed my immediate supervisor the picture and she said that it wasn’t there yesterday. She was surprised. “

“I went to my desk and called my family and [called] a friend and showed her the photo (I emailed her the photo). They were shocked. I told her that I felt uncomfortable and I was going to be leaving. My family told me I could get an escort if I feared for my safety. I just left without an escort.”

Maria said she was told to contact Human Resources. It was about a week after the incident when they finally called her. Maria didn’t feel like HR was an effective advocate for her.

“When you have friends, you are going to protect them and make sure that you don’t risk your financial stability. They don’t care. It’s a waste of time, no one cares, just get another job.”

“No one from Affirmative Action called me, no one contacted Dr. Gibbs [OHSU Vice President for Equity and Inclusion], no one asked for follow-up. It’s all about them being friends.”

To Maria, it felt as if OHSU’s priorities were backwards. Its lack of action had the effect of “making me feel like I was the cause of the problem because I reported it. I was the problem. They didn’t make me feel like I was the victim of a hate crime or of discrimination. They made me feel like [the employee who put us the noose] was the victim. It was like he was the one who got hurt, because someone told on him.”

“I was hurt when they found no racial intent. I was hurt by it, and was made to feel that I’m overly sensitive and I should go get the free counseling. I was insulted by it. It’s like they are saying that racism is here and it’s up to me to learn how to accept it.”

“At this point I don’t feel like anything is going to change. I had confidence in a system which had failed.”

For Maria, the losses keep piling up.

“I loved my job. I still think about the patients. I fought for them, I fought insurance companies for my patients. They lost a valuable employee. At the end of the day, because of the color of my skin, no one noticed that anything was wrong. I think about the people who would hug me, who were very sick, and saying ‘Maria, this might be my last visit.’ I think about them.”

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Apology Accepted?

At a “standup” meeting in Food and Nutrition on Thursday, Jan. 5, the supervisor who pushed Local 328 member John Kusluch toward a wall and put his finger in John’s face apologized to the workers present. (John was not in attendance at the meeting.) The supervisor told the workers that John was okay with the outcome and that, earlier, John had shook his hand and accepted his apology.

After John’s shift ended on Thursday, we asked him about that.

John said that the supervisor and the supervisor’s manager had met with him earlier in the day. “You could tell he was scared for his job, and it felt like he was being told to apologize.”

“He personally apologized and acknowledged that he wouldn’t want to be treated that way.” John continued, “Apology is the first step, but more corrective action needs to be taken.”

 At this time John and the supervisor have only minimal contact, as their shifts overlap by just one hour.

OHSU has said that the supervisor did not “push” John and has characterized the supervisor’s actions as “placing his hands on [John’s] shoulders and turned him 90 degrees.” John disputes this, saying that while he was never off balance or physically touching the wall, it’s because the supervisor had his hands on John’s shoulders and moved him enough to overcome John’s initial resistance. John did not offer resistance because he “didn’t want to escalate things more.”

This raises an interesting question. If OHSU says the supervisor is not guilty of “pushing” because there was no resistance, what would have been the outcome if John had resisted?

Is it OHSU’s expectation that employees must resist physical contact — must escalate an encounter in order to justify disciplinary action against the aggressor? Is this the standard that OHSU would also apply in a sexual harassment case? That when an employee doesn’t resist, it mitigates the offense?

John is aware that our union has filed a grievance on the matter. The remedy our union is seeking in the grievance is that the supervisor no longer be allowed to work with John and that the supervisor take anger-management classes provided by the OHSU/AFSCME Career and Workplace Enhancement Center. John said that, as far as he knows, the CWE classes are voluntary and not mandated for supervisors.

John added, “There’s a code of conduct; you can’t just pick and choose which rules to follow. I think the reaction should be fair to what a normal employee would get. I told [the manager] that, and she said that even though this was an egregious act, she doesn’t see it as anything that would be treated differently between employees and supervisors.”

“Everyone was shocked that it happened. One of the supervisors that witnessed said it wasn’t appropriate. Coworkers are afraid of what he is going to do to them. People say things like ‘How is this okay? How can they allow this to happen?’ My coworkers think it’s ridiculous that he got away with it. It’s almost a running joke that you can do anything you want in the kitchen if you say you’re sorry afterwards”

“An apology is nice, but I think he still should be let go. If I had done that to him I wouldn’t have lasted [another] day on the job.”

“I’m really not feeling well today, but since I’ve already used two days of sick leave, I could be disciplined or fired for calling in sick. So I’m here, not feeling well, working in the kitchen.”

“I think what he did is worse than me calling in sick.”

Demand Action, Not Words, from OHSU

Following our union’s editorial on our blog — How Safe Is OHSU? —  about the need for OHSU and Local 328 to do more to ensure an equitable and diverse community in the workplace, OHSU President Robertson released a statement calling for OHSU to be an “an inclusive culture that is safe and creates a respectful and healthy environment for all” and went on to talk about how health-care providers may face discrimination from patients and how that will not be tolerated.

Following a Portland Tribune article about an OHSU employee experiencing a noose being hung in her work area, OHSU announced that there will be a campus-wide Martin Luther King, Jr. Day event on Friday, Jan. 13: “Dr. King’s legacy and commitment to social justice is a unifying moment for our campus community. As OHSU elevates its commitment to equity and inclusion, you are invited to join in reflecting on Dr. King’s teachings and embracing the challenges that we as individuals, our institution and our nation currently face in our collective struggle to realize his dream.”

Equity and inclusion is a larger issue than patients wanting to change doctors and celebrating Dr. King’s uplifting message. It is about broadening our vision. It is about taking action. It is about disrupting the status quo.

Dr. King said: “Human progress is neither automatic nor inevitable…Every step toward the goal of justice requires sacrifice, suffering, and struggle; the tireless exertions and passionate concern of dedicated individuals.”

We need more than just words, more than easy and public actions — and not for only the privileged and visible.

Words and tributes may set the tone, declare our values and define a mission. Actions will reveal who we are. Are the rank-and-file working people at OHSU included in OHSU’s vision? Where is this articulated? Have they been invited to the table where decisions on OHSU’s actions will be made?

Are the working people of OHSU invited to participate in OHSU’s reflection and call-to-action event on Jan. 13? Will they be released for an hour or two from work to add their voices to this celebration of the legacy of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.?

Or will the diverse working people of OHSU, those who don’t bring in big grants or bill insurance companies for their services, be conspicuous by their absence when Dr. King’s legacy is celebrated and OHSU “elevates its commitment to equity and inclusion”?

 

 

Up Against The Wall At OHSU

By Dennis Ziemer, Local 328 Staff

The Food and Nutrition department at OHSU employs more than 300 employees; nearly 100 of them are involved in preparing, transporting and serving meals to patients. The job doesn’t end there — these employees have the task of making sure that sanitation is held to the highest standards. The safety of OHSU’s patients is a top priority, but lately the Food and Nutrition employees have had concerns about their own safety.

If employees are concerned about possible contamination or safety issues in the dishwashing operation, for example, the matter is brought to the attention of Food & Nutrition management. Employees can usually do so without fear of disciplinary action — or a physical reaction from the supervisor — because being attentive to safety is part of the job. At least that’s what the employees thought.

Recently, a cargo container has been repurposed as a temporary dishwashing unit and is being used during a remodel of the dish room in the hospital. Along with frequent breakdowns of the “dishwasher,” Food and Nutrition staff have found large amounts of mold and mildew in the area where dishes are cleaned and clean dish trays pass through. Management has closed down the cargo-container dishwashing unit more than once and redirected the cleaning of dishes and trays to other facilities on campus. Each time, the container was to be cleaned and reopened as soon as possible.

The temporary dishwashing unit has raised other safety concerns with employees. Without rain gear or other water-protection garments, the employees could not enter the container without getting drenched by errant sprayers, but OHSU does not provide rain garments to these employees. Food and Nutrition employees frequently had to wear wet clothing throughout the workday if they were assigned to dishwashing.

December 8, 2016, was an icy and snowy day. Food and Nutrition  workers asked what they were going to do about the dishes during this inclement weather, since the makeshift dishwashing unit is outside. Acting as the lead staff person, John Kusluch told them that the supervisor’s plan was for them to take the dishes to other dishwashing facilities on campus, which would mean lots of extra work hauling dishes. After John told the staff this, a supervisor for Patient Food Service came out of his office to correct the statement to say that it was not his idea, but his manager’s.

John apologized to him, telling him that other supervisors had told him that it was this supervisor’s idea. The supervisor then accused John of spreading rumors and told John again that it wasn’t his plan. The supervisor walked away, but a minute later returned to John, put both of his hands on John’s shoulders and dragged John towards a wall about a foot away. After this, the supervisor started waving his finger in front of John’s face, in what appeared to be threatening manner, reiterating that it wasn’t his idea.

Since this event, Local 328 has filed a grievance and OHSU has investigated the matter. Our union and HR met during step 1 in the grievance process, but no response has been received at this time according to union staff representative Dennis Ziemer. HR interviewed several employees who witnessed this event, including other supervisors who were also concerned about the physical actions by John’s supervisor. HR determined that the physical reaction by the supervisor was an inappropriate action, but since it didn’t appear to be retaliatory it didn’t warrant removing the supervisor during the investigation. It also appears that because John maintained his balance, wasn’t knocked down or visibly hurt or, incredibly enough, isn’t female, the supervisor who became physical with John will keep his job and will maintain his authority over the same staff who witnessed his inappropriate actions.

Since this event, John and other Food and Nutrition staff don’t feel safe coming to work. An additional grievance has have been filed by our union, addressing concerns about the safety of these employees and the patients they serve.

How Safe Is OHSU?

How Safe Is OHSU?

Almost everyone would agree that employees deserve a safe workplace, but there are always questions about how to define “safety” and problems in how to achieve it.

Local 328 has been surveying our members since 2000. Early on, we found that one of our members’ top priorities has always been workplace safety. We have to admit — that puzzled us. There are always accidents, exposures and ergonomic issues that arise in any workplace; however, these problems were not common and were mostly addressed effectively by OHSU.

It wasn’t until our union took a deeper look in a later survey that we learned that what members were talking about was emotional safety. We tried to respond to that with solutions addressing workplace conflict and hostile work environments — programs like BridgeBuilders and the Career and Workplace Enhancement Center (which has conflict resolution programs/training as one of its focus areas).

It has become clear to us, though, that while our previous efforts were well intentioned and effective as far as their stated goals, the problems our union should have been trying to solve were far larger.

Race and Class at OHSU

These are going to be difficult paragraphs to write, because when discussing the impacts of race and class at OHSU, the finger we point needs to point inward as well as outward.

It is clear, in hindsight, after last year’s EVS campaign and after more recent incidents on campus, that we as a union need to do better at effectively drawing attention to and resolving incidents of marginalization, discrimination and racism directed at our members and sometimes, sadly, by our members. We have allowed ourselves to fall into the trap of privileging the experiences of the dominant white culture over the experiences of people of color and other underrepresented employees — people who have not been silent, but whose voices also have not been heard.

When we finally learn to listen, do we then fall into the trap of paternalism and passivity, of assuming that we know the best path to follow, of selectively filtering what we hear? Of subtly discounting experiences that are unfamiliar to us and of congratulating ourselves for our own good intentions? Of telling people who are in pain what we can or cannot do for them without asking them what we should be doing in concert with them?

Yes. Yes we do.

Good Intentions, Doing Better

Our union has good intentions — intentions to pursue a path of equity, racial and economic justice and basic fairness for all our members. We also know that we fall short of those goals.

We believe that at the highest levels of the organization, OHSU shares those goals. And we know that, as most organizations do, OHSU falls short of those goals — sometime subtly, sometimes spectacularly.

Over the next few weeks, Local 328 is going to talk about some negative experiences our members have had at OHSU — experiences that place in bold relief the differences that race, ethnicity, disability, religion, sexual and gender identification,  and economic and educational status make in how employees are perceived and treated and how those differences seem to operate within the very OHSU systems designed to protect employees from those injustices. How employees who make money appear to be privileged over employees who cost money and how the acts of employees in authority are minimized while far less egregious acts by rank-and-file workers result in terminations for cause.

We need to do better. Our union needs to open the doors of problem solving and engagement to all our members, especially members who are subjected to aggression, discrimination and microaggressions every day. We can’t solve this problem without you — in fact, “we” aren’t “we” without you. Our union needs more of us at the table — if necessary, we will build a bigger table.

OHSU needs to do better. It needs to listen to its employees and listen to our union when we talk about injustice faced by our members. OHSU needs to worry less about being exposed to lawsuits and protecting the revenue generators and more about living up to the ideals that an institution dedicated to the public’s well-being must embody, not just pay lip service to.

Our union will work with anyone who wants to help us become a better union and with anyone who wants to help bring transformative change to OHSU — including OHSU.

Need Vacation? Don’t Become An OHSU Pharmacist.

Pharmacists have been quietly filing grievances for months over the inability to get vacation on a first come, first served basis when requesting time off for unfilled vacation slots.

For those not familiar with the AFSCME/OHSU contract, management must identify at the beginning of the year the number of opportunities available for vacation time on any given day throughout the year. Those vacations “slots” that aren’t used during the vacation bid in February of each year are available, by contract, on a first come, first served basis for the rest of the year.

Due to chronic understaffing OHSU Pharmacy management has been consistently refusing to honor vacation requests made by pharmacists for time which is contractually available. As a result, employees are having to resort to shift trades and schedule changes to get time off. The lack of vacation availability is taking a toll. Combined with large amounts of extra shifts and overtime to fill shifts left vacant due to unfilled staff positions pharmacists are feeling overworked and under appreciated.

Many current pharmacists believe that these working conditions are leading to staff turnover, fatigue and low morale. As the grievances which have been filed move to arbitration pharmacists might begin to get some relief when arbitrators start enforcing the union contract, but it’s a long process. In the meantime pharmacists are meeting with union representatives to work on strategies to bring about a more immediate resolution.

As Joe Ness, Vice President for Professional and Support Services, said in a recent meeting: “I don’t care how much money you earn in your job, if your vacation is denied, it’s a morale buster.”

It’s time for OHSU Pharmacy management to take these issues seriously and work with the union to resolve these issues.

EVS Independent Investigation Results.

On Monday, June 20th, EVS employees at OHSU received a joint communication from AFSCME and OHSU advising that the independent investigator appointed to look into issues of employee abuse at the OHSU Environmental Services department had completed her work and issued a report.

The report was a comprehensive review of the charges made by AFSCME Local 328 regarding the working conditions of EVS employees, based on in depth interviews with approximately 30 EVS workers.

This independent investigation is unprecedented for OHSU and Local 328 and is a direct result of our members standing up for themselves with on the job actions, their willingness to share their stories publically on social media and in person and their willingness to support each other.

When our Union began this process we had three demands:

  • An independent investigation
  • An effective labor management process where workers can be heard and have their issues addressed
  • A reform of the internal complaint process when workers are victimized by managers or coworkers.

The independent investigation has been completed and a report issued.

The report outlines findings in nine areas where the investigator found evidence to support our union’s claims:

  1. Cultural insensitivity and bias in the workplace
  2. Disrespectful behavior down, up and across the workgroup
  3. Perceived favoritism
  4. Roles, duties and expectations not clear or standardized
  5. Lack of accountability
  6. Operational practices cause lost productivity and waste
  7. Staffing issues
  8. Perceived inconsistent application or disregard of rules
  9. Not enough transparency and communication

Each finding was accompanied by a list of recommendations. OHSU and AFSCME Local 328 have scheduled a series of meetings to review and plan to implement the recommendations. As we implement recommendations we will report to our members on our progress.

The labor/management committee (LMC) is active in Environmental Services.

A facilitator has been hired and the teams for labor and management have been selected. The goal of labor/management meetings are to raise and resolve issues other than contract violations or interpersonal problems – in other words, to look at workplace problems that often get overlooked because communication between workers and management has broken down. Initial meetings of the labor management committee have been effective.  The two teams have already brainstormed a list of potential issues and plan to prioritize them at their next meeting.  Additionally EVS management will begin introducing  LMC representatives at EVS huddles.

The reform of the internal complaint process has not been resolved at this time.

The investigator made some recommendations about the way complaints should be reported but did not make recommendations about changing the complaint process itself. This is an area where we will need to have ongoing discussions before we can report that it has been resolved.

So what does it all mean; what have we learned?

We learned that an active membership raising public awareness of a problem can be a spur to action. We learned that OHSU will respond when presented with compelling evidence. We learned that the best way to get OHSU to respond is for workers to stand together and take the risk of telling their stories about how they are affected by their working conditions.

We’ve learned that OHSU is willing and able to take corrective action AND work in collaboration with the union to make changes when called upon, including personnel changes, when necessary.

We’ve learned that workers really are stronger together.

We want to thank our stewards and leaders, especially Chief Steward Michael Stewart and President Matt Hilton, the members who put their names out publically on social media to tell their stories, the EVS workers who had the courage to meet with the investigator, our members from all over campus who wrote messages of support, wore buttons and attended our vigils, the EVS workers who broke tradition and began speaking out in the morning huddles, the members who were inspired during this time to step up and become unit stewards to help their coworkers, the nurses who wore buttons and supported our EVS workers and everyone else who was touched by the stories of our workers and who didn’t turn a blind eye.

Thank you.

About That Apology…

A Rare Retraction

On Feb. 11th our Union posted a story about patient transportation management banning AFSCME badges, then apologizing. While the content of the story remains true, management never issued an apology despite verbally agreeing that that was something they should do.

It is unfortunate that Transportation management has taken that stance. Our union was hoping that by agreeing to pull back on their ban and apologize for the violation of member’s rights we could move on and hopefully see this as a trust building opportunity with department management. Obviously, we were mistaken in attempting to do so, as it seems that was not their intention. However, it is important for our union to be the party acting in good faith.

Members in transportation continue to face treatment that workers should not have to face in 2016. Intimidation for union activity, continued favoritism and many other problems are still rampant in the department. We will be continuing to advocate on our members behalf and will not stop. If you have stories or information about transportation please send them to their Staff Rep. Ross Grami, rgrami@oregonafscme.com.