EBC and the Wellness Requirement

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Note: This EBC decision has been rescinded, so comments are now closed on this post. Please see the update for additional information and commentary.


Several days ago, OHSU announced that it is resuming a wellness requirement, with a surcharge for non-compliance. This has understandably has upset a lot of our members and other OHSU employees. While the information we’re sharing here won’t change any minds about the wellness requirement itself, we hope that it does illuminate the process behind the decision and ease folks’ minds about our union’s role in the EBC. (We apologize that it has taken us a few days to get this information out to you.)

What is the Employee Benefits Council?

The EBC is a body that provides employee input on OHSU’s benefits decisions. It is made up of representatives from AFSCME and ONA, as well as unclassified employees (management and faculty). OHSU has three votes, AFSCME has two and ONA has one. The EBC is responsible for making decisions about OHSU’s medical-plan design and benefits, including health-promotion and disease-management programs. In the event of a tie vote within the EBC, OHSU’s president (or designee) serves as tie-breaker. 

Why aren’t these decisions made during bargaining?

While our union successfully negotiated a contract that preserved existing benefits contributions, expanded our bereavement-leave options and prevented a spousal surcharge, certain decisions fall within the scope of the EBC and aren’t part of contract negotiations. The EBC determines things like what types of medical plans OHSU offers, what vendor is used to administer claims (e.g., Moda) and what wellness programs are offered (and what sort of incentives or penalties might be applied). Previous iterations of the EBC have approved wellness requirements such as getting a flu shot or taking an online health assessment. 

What are the disadvantages to the current structure of the EBC?

When the EBC was discussing the wellness requirement and surcharge, many of its members expressed a desire to see more of a “carrot” and less of a “stick” approach to employee wellness. Although the EBC was designed to work by consensus, one of the disadvantages its current structure is that OHSU can ultimately force through a change or new requirement if consensus can’t be reached. Since OHSU has three votes by itself and the two unions have three votes total, a tie can result. If the unions vote against something OHSU wants, OHSU can take the issue to its president to break the tie and side with the employer. We wrote about the problems with this model about a year ago (see here).

Why couldn’t AFSCME have prevented the surcharge?

Some of you may recall that in 2018, AFSCME won an arbitration against OHSU about the EBC trying to force a spousal surcharge. (OHSU tried this again during bargaining this year and was again defeated). The arbitrator determined that a surcharge like the spousal surcharge cannot be implemented by the EBC. However, the arbitrator specifically called out OHSU’s previous wellness surcharges and its existing tobacco surcharge as examples of surcharges that are justifiable under our agreement. This means that OHSU has the authority, through the EBC, to impose a surcharge associated with non-compliance with a wellness program.

Why did AFSCME’s EBC representatives vote for the wellness requirement?

To summarize the situation: OHSU decided that resuming a wellness requirement with a non-compliance penalty was a priority and proposed it to the EBC. (The amount of the surcharge is the same as in previous years.) A recent arbitration decision highlighted that a wellness surcharge was within the purview of the EBC. OHSU has half the votes in the EBC, and the ability to break a tie should the need arise. Simply stated, there unfortunately wasn’t a scenario in which the wellness requirement and surcharge weren’t going to happen.

We realize that many of our members don’t understand why our union’s EBC representatives didn’t vote no on this on principle. By voting no, we would have given up any role in the process and any chance to make the requirements less onerous for our bargaining unit. After weighing it over, we felt that AFSCME could better serve our members by being an active participant and working to mitigate things to the best of our ability.

What does this mean, practically speaking? We were instrumental in getting OHSU to offer the screenings more frequently and in more locations, to make the process less inconvenient. The health evaluation is now narrower in scope from OHSU’s initial plan. Employees who are penalized will be able to appeal that decision before an appeals committee and our union will have representation on that committee. Other ways the requirement has been made less burdensome include offering resources to employees who speak English as a second language, offering the screenings during a variety of shifts and including the option to be screened by one’s own medical provider. We are also firmly committed to get an extension of the deadline for compliance with the requirements. 

What can we do to change things?

In the short term? The EBC can always amend its decisions. Keep the feedback coming! The EBC works on plan design every year, so things could change in 2020.

In the long-term? While we can’t do anything in bargaining to eliminate wellness requirements, we absolutely can fight to change the structure of the EBC to hopefully prevent this kind of thing from being implemented in the future.

Some of you may recall that during the negotiations that just ended, our union introduced a proposal that would have prevented OHSU from using Dr. Jacobs to break a tie to get its way — instead, the EBC would have been required to work through any ties until consensus is reached. (You can read more about our proposal here.) Not only did OHSU refuse to consider our proposal, it made a counterproposal to turn the EBC into an advisory body only, meaning our members would have effectively had no voice in the process at all — instead, OHSU proposed that the vice president of HR (yes — Dan Forbes!) be the ultimate decision-maker about your benefits. While OHSU dropped that proposal, management made it abundantly clear that we wouldn’t reach an agreement that included our proposed change to the EBC. Our bargaining team didn’t feel that this was strike-worthy as a stand-alone issue, so we withdrew our proposal. Our union will absolutely reintroduce this proposal during negotiations in 2022.

49 thoughts on “EBC and the Wellness Requirement”

  1. This union could help its employees by eliminating the penalty charge and making it an incentive charge instead. If people want to participate, give them a credit of 34$ a month. If people don’t, leave us alone. I don’t need to be babysat by a wellness app, and my health conditions are triggered by these kinds of arbitrary statistics-based programs.

    1. How could our union compel OHSU to offer a wellness incentive instead of a penalty? OHSU wants to cut its costs, not increase them. Joni Elsenpeter, associate VP of HR, stated: “My preference would have been that the OHSU premium contribution be reduced and that employees earn back credit for participating in the health evaluation.”

      OHSU wanted to cut our premium contributions AND have us submit to an invasive wellness requirement (to get a “credit” to earn back what they took from us). This is the type of organization we’re dealing with, folks.

  2. So do we get paid regular hourly wages for being forced to give blood to a less accountable 3rd party? My doctor isn’t at OHSU and I have personal reasons for not being seen there. Will I be paid without using my sick time to take the time I need to get another physical from my PCP? I can’t afford to pay the extortion costs, so I don’t have any choice, it seems.. (asking for a LOT of friends)

  3. Also, will the medical waivers be made easily available for folks who have a shot at NOT participating in this scam? Maybe an easily printable PDF to be made widely available?
    What is the legal recourse in the event of a data breach? As far as I know, my health info is the ONLY thing I have that’s not been breached yet… sorry, still pissed….

  4. I still don’t know how it is legal to force employees to undergo medical tests. This is a basic right the union should be fighting with everything it has. My googling is no substitute for a law degree but it sure seems to me like this violates the Americans with Disabilities Act and Genetic Information Nondiscrimination Act. I should of gone to law school. Why isn’t the union looking into if this is legal? Just because the Arbiter says the EBC can implement some forms of wellness surcharges doesn’t mean this one is legal. Very disappointed in my union and my employer.

    OHSU can’t have my blood! They already have my sweat and tears.

  5. I will have to drop my union membership to make up for the theft. But maybe that was their goal, to weaken the union.

    1. Then my advice is don’t play into that endgame. We won a lot with bargaining and winning a solid contest. OHSU was going to roll this out anyway. This is the last act of a desperate corporate entity. Weakening your voice isn’t going to help anything going forward. I get the anger and helplessness but stay strong. In the timeless words of Chuck D, ‘Shut em down’!

    1. According to one of the posts on OHSU Now, “The wellness surcharge will impact benefits-eligible employees who are covered by one of the health plans offered to OHSU employees.”

      1. So if you accept vision or dental, you will pay this surcharge? or only if you accept one of the healthcare coverages? this is somewhat ambiguous language.

  6. This is crazy, not sure our union could have changed the outcome. Weird times we live in, that’s for sure.

  7. With OHSU president being the tie breaker, OHSU will get what they want every time. This doesn’t seem equitable at all. A neutral 3rd party would have been a more fair choice.

  8. Ok, reading the liability waiver we automatically sign when we submit our PHI to this company is scary. By giving them our data we release the company from any unintended disclosure, breach or loss of data to any third party. That’s crazy!

  9. The rationale that OHSU gets the tie-breaker and would get what they want anyway, seems like a pretty weak justification for AFSCME using it’s two votes to approve this. ONA voted No. Why did AFSCME?

    1. “By voting no, we would have given up any role in the process and any chance to make the requirements less onerous for our bargaining unit. After weighing it over, we felt that AFSCME could better serve our members by being an active participant and working to mitigate things to the best of our ability.”

      1. What would a no vote had accomplished? Not a rhetorical question. If AFSCME had voted no, OHSU would have still imposed this garbage on its employees. Why does voting no make our union the bad guy?

        1. I think it would have showed unity for the employee. It would have left a record of their disapproval. Most importantly it would have represented the people they are supposed to.

  10. OHSU administration continues to be dismissive and contemptuous of its employees. This is abundantly clear by the continued presence of a certain vice president who “resigned” and yet is still here and most likely influencing the work of the EBC.

  11. The Union isn’t fighting this egregious attack on employees with everything it has. Why are we not fighting this in court? Why are we not staging walkouts? Why did we just rollover an$ accept this violation of or rights.

    Being the voice of reason in a bad deed doesn’t mean your not part of the bad deed.

  12. I don’t blame AFSCME on this one. Damned If they didn’t or did.
    Been working at OHSU almost 22 years, and in all that time, OHSU has continually weaseled out their employees in one form or another. This is a business, profits are the priority, employees are unnecessary cost to them.

  13. I’m very upset about this privacy violation and will be opting out entirely. So long to $33 per month I really need.

  14. Instead of a reluctant “yes” vote, could they have abstained? That would at least have been symbolic.

    1. Frank Vehafric, our staff rep who also serves on the EBC just made a comment on our Facebook post linking to this article. He says, in part: “The member leaders and staff on the EBC had a choice of sitting it out and letting OHSU design the plan or having input into the plan.”

  15. This is not the union’s fault and certainly no reason not to ratify the new contract, in my opinion. What good would that do? The amount we’d lose going on strike would be more than the $400/year that we’d pay for the wellness surcharge, and more importantly, most likely wouldn’t result in getting rid of this requirement anyway, since the contract and the surcharge aren’t related. Jennifer has explained how the EBC decisions are outside of the bargaining process. The union managed to get us a contract that’s SO MUCH BETTER than what we would’ve gotten without the intensive bargaining they did, and I for one do not want to lose those important gains just because of this wellness thing, no matter how much we all disagree with it.

    1. @S.James the problem with this arguement is if we don’t fight this today what does tomorrow look like. No one knows and that is the problem. Maybe if we are lucky this issue fades into the background surcharges stop and everything goes back to normal. What if it doesn’t and OHSU decides now you must start complying with the evaluation recommendations or face a “surcharge”. Just maybe they decide to go one step further each and every year until there isn’t an employee who doesn’t pay some form of a surcharge. I know everyone doesn’t think it is a big deal until it impacts them directly. Well I for one am not going to wait for this to impact me directly I am fighting OHSU, AFSCME, and anyone else who supports this current wellness program.

      1. Dallas – yes, we should fight the surcharge, but “we” in this case isn’t necessarily the union – it’s all employees at OHSU who are unhappy with this. And we are doing that, by making ourselves heard on the OHSU blog. As Jennifer has stated several times, the union had no way to block this for us and it’s not an item that was eligible to be bargained on during negotiations. Unions have to follow applicable laws and agreements. I think you are unfairly expecting the union to do more than they are legally allowed to do. Doesn’t mean we shouldn’t fight the surcharge – just means we can’t really do that under the purview of union bargaining from what I understand.

  16. The meeting notes of the 7/24/2019 EBC call this a “Wellness Incentive”. It is now being called a “Wellness Surcharge”. Was the original plan to have it be an incentive added to the paystub, much like the “MyCommute Incentive” is periodically added? Why can’t it be changed to the MyCommute model as an added item in the earnings column?

  17. Maybe it’s time for AFSCME, ONA, GRU, unclassified, and everyone else to join forces to tell OHSU how much we collectively hate this.

    If they keep this up, we’ll have a reason to march every month …

  18. I keep thinking about this wellness surcharge and I just need to vent. I don’t want to do so on the OHSU page because things are already inflammatory enough on there and I don’t want to be seen as making things worse. But what really bugs me about this is how they think we are naive or stupid. They insist on presenting this as something that’s for our benefit, to enhance our well-being. But no for-profit company would ever do anything that’s purely altruistic for their employees, and we all know it! There has to be a financial incentive for OHSU or this wouldn’t be happening. Period. Why can’t they just admit that. Be straight with us. Admit that the reason it’s not good enough to just show that we’re already receiving health guidance from our PCP is that OHSU wouldn’t benefit from that! In the scenario they’ve set up, they win either way – they either get our money, or our data. Yes, I know they don’t directly get personally identifying information, but their vendor does, and clearly OHSU gets something out of making that deal with the vendor (which probably, ultimately, is financial). It’s just so infuriating that they continually underestimate our intelligence and think that we don’t know “spin” when we see it!

    And from what I gather, the Interactive Health portal itself is similarly insulting, relying on emojis to indicate whether something is good or bad, and presenting data in a cartoonish way. We are health professionals, not children. Why do they insist on treating us as such? Again, just infuriating.

    Thanks for letting me rant.

  19. Allowability is not the same as legal. I am no lawyer, but I think this is illegal since it carries a penalty. And re: the tobacco surcharge; what is next will be a BMI surcharge. Obesity is a far more prevalent “condition” per capita than smoking and causes far more disease/death. This whole thing sets a dangerous precedent.

  20. Posting a huge long message with every person’s bio smart. You could of just linked to a pdf file with the info. But the post wouldn’t of driven the ebc surcharge out of view. Way to distance yourself from the horrible representation of our unit. At least in my opinion.

    Where is the fight for our rights!

    1. The elections post was scheduled prior to the EBC announcement being made. The only reason there isn’t a PDF is because I didn’t think to make one. (And if you had asked for the information to be shared as a PDF instead of a list, I would have been happy to do it when I had the chance.)

      When you say “you” in this comment, you’re addressing me. It’s not a faceless, amorphous union entity behind this blog–it’s an individual person. I had nothing to do with the EBC decision. I’m not trying to distance myself (or the union, for that matter) from anything. I don’t appreciate being wrongly accused of operating in bad faith or being deceptive.

      You’ve made it very clear in your multiple comments on our blog that you’re unhappy with the wellness requirement/surcharge and you’re welcome to continue expressing your thoughts about the matter, but please refrain from making unfounded allegations.

      1. @Jennifer Barker — Just so you know, the hard work you and other members of the negotiating team have given are greatly appreciated, as are your efforts to keep us as up to date as possible. Thank you!

  21. Good news, homeslices! The “wellness surcharge” was indefinitely suspended by OHSU. Info in the OHSU News.

  22. (And mad props to Jennifer for all the communication efforts on this blog. Although I may have beef with some of the decisions made by the 328, Props to y’all for allowing me to express myself fairly and respectfully in this forum.)

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