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!