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.

47 thoughts on “How Safe Is OHSU?”

    1. Its because supervisors and managers get to have Business Partners help them with discriminating and bullying AFSCME workers. REAL leaders don’t need to hide behind the Business Partners, unless they are trying to cover up the BS they are inflicting on many of us AFSCME Union Employees. I was told that Business Partners are supposed to be fair and represent both sides, but that is a COMPLETE LIE! The Business Partners strictly protect OHSU from lawsuits.

  1. Where is our diversity in our Union reps – when I look for someone that understands I met by white eyes from Union. You expect to understand my struggles? Thanks for the post Frank but you want to take up my cause? I don’t think so. You take my money which I earn and have hand on my back to keep me down while the other is in my wallet. The Union is a part of the problem – where are my brothers and sisters in AFSCME Leadership? Not enough and certainly none among the reps at OHSU – when can we expect more diversity in our reps at OHSU? Frank, Dennis, Ross, Kate, Andy come on – you expect us to identify with you? Really ? Those names tell us enough about how much you are a part of our community. I am just waiting for next rep named Donald. So post your story about a struggle as union employee growing up a minority, struggling….I would love to read that fiction.

  2. I appreciate the fact that we have a union but I have asked for help and the person representing me will only contact me if I contact her. There is no communication what so ever on her part. So do I believe I can contact my union with an issue and have some follow through? No I Do Not and that is super sad. With all that is going on, how we are asked to comment on someone’s tweet about a union leader. Yet left in the cold in reality. If our union is going to remain strong then we need to feel like you have our back. If not the people trying to break the unions will not have a hard time doing so. I am very pro union but haven’t felt like the union is pro employee. Thanks for the article.

    1. I’m really sorry to hear that’s happened to you. I wish it hadn’t.

      The union stewards that you contact are OHSU employees who’ve volunteered to try and find time in their busy work schedules to help their fellow employees. And there aren’t nearly enough of them. They are spread incredibly thin. If you are frustrated by insufficient steward contact please consider volunteering, or making sure that you’re supporting your coworkers who do. For a union this size the number of stewards we have is amazingly low.

      1. It wasn’t a union steward it was a union rep I don’t want to say her name. Please don’t insult my intelligence by saying it was a steward I know better than to talk to a steward on an issue. Now I am truly both with the union. We should only pay for union services like you pay a lawyer, when needed maybe then we’ll get real help.

  3. Frank, you miss my point – how can you and your colleagues represent and understand my struggle? Describe.

    You cannot because you don’t know what it is like to live in my skin. I have met a number of our AFSCME reps over my career – not one was ever of color. Not one understood my struggle. I am as much an indentured servant to the Union as I am to OHSU – perhaps more so because I can chose to work at OHSU but not to be in this union if I work at OHSU.

    Where is the dialogue at AFSCME – where is our next African American union rep at OHSU? At least OHSU tries to hire from my community – and I see my brothers and sisters around OHSU – not enough – but I see none from AFSCME – so be role models not hypocrites – show OHSU how to do it by example not by a white guilt on blog post.

    Please post AFSCME’s plan to address their lack of diversity and how they can teach OHSU and other AFSCME groups how to do better by following the AFSCME example.

    1. Hi Michael! I am also African-American and I too asked myself the same question, although in my situation I find the union have been doing the best they can with the resources they have. Believe it or not, I had one African American female afscme rep and when we got to the bogus investigatory meeting that someone requested, my own African American union rep sold her soul and was agreeing with the Business Partner who was trying to get me in trouble for something bogus. What I have found is many of the minority management team have sold their souls to cater to the non-minority groups. Selling themselves out to make non-minorities happy. Although I was not written up for the bogus investigatory meeting, just know some of our own are selling their souls for their jobs. I WILL NEVER SELL MY SOUL FOR ANYONE. Kate and Johanna have been a blessing to me. On another note, if you feel you aren’t being heard, there are many more external routes to contact to get the discriminatory actions resolved. I’m open to chat with you anytime.

    2. I think you should tell everyone specifically what issues you are experiencing and why they can only be heard and helped by a certain ethnicity. Because if you are saying that the reps skin color is the only reason you are upset…. I think you should rethink that idea.

  4. It seems to me that my Union runs to high paid Pharmacists everytime. So much of what would do the rest of us good is torpedoed by high paid whiny staff. I have seen it in ITG and other places look at the pay and look the make up those who “feel strongly” . All senior employees, all part of the long term culture at OHSU – and nearly all not of color.

    I have been a part of the Union leadership in the past and they are just paying lip service to those of us who are not high dues paying (and usually white). They serve the majority and shrug their shoulders saying membership will not support – they may be right about membership not supporting but if AFSCME really believes this – they need to break with the majority and really stand up for the minority within their own membership.

    I agree with the previous post we need more diversity in AFSCME if they want to identify with us. I am sorry but a the over 50 white guy has no idea how a single mother of color feels – they never will.

  5. I have one manager that since my arrival has treated me poorly. Filed an ethics violation and it still happens. Word around the building is that it has happened since she arrived. Sadly she is still here and still the same manager she has always been.

  6. What are some suggestions on HOW to get more people interested in working WITH the union — to allow for more diverse representation? While I know that we ALL have things outside of work that pull us in many directions (kids, ailing family members, possibly a 2nd or even 3rd job, transportation issues or housing issues, etc) — I’ve also seen the union reach out (mainly via e-mails and fliers) to try and get the population engaged.

  7. Michael,

    If you don’t think you have any struggles common with people who don’t share your ethnic background then you are 100% right that this union can’t help you. Let me be the first to wish you good luck.

    To those of you who see yourself and your struggles reflected in your fellow workers no matter their race, religion, or sexual orientation I say: welcome, let us fight as one.

  8. It seems to me that my Union runs to low paid staff everytime. So much of what would do the rest of us good is torpedoed by low paid whiny staff. I have seen it in ITG and other places look at the “low” pay and look the make up those who “feel strongly” . All senior employees, all part of the long term culture at OHSU

  9. I have had to use the union. You know what they tell me, document what is going on and we’ll talk about it. That’s about it. Nothing happened.
    Your stewards were supposed to contact me about a couple of issues. They never did.
    The union was supposed to be in meetings negotiating an issue, and you weren’t. Then you lied about it. I will never trust the union again.
    The union makes money! Plain and simple. A lot of money!

    1. We have about 90 unit stewards, about 10 lead stewards, and about 25 investigative and grievance stewards. Not nearly enough for 6000 members, we will train volunteers.

  10. As someone who got active with AFSCME when I was 23, 13 years later it’s becoming very apparent to me that someday I’ll be the white guy over 50, regardless of where I am or what I’m doing.

    Anon, you’re right I don’t know how you feel. I can’t experience what you’ve experienced. That being said, you can tell us what it’s like and how OUR Union can be of better assistance in those challenges.

    OHSU is a well-oiled machine, with a variety of consultants, strategic communicators, and top down leadership. If you’re happy with how things are at OHSU, great. If you’re not, trashing our Union really isn’t going to bring about the change you seek.

    I’m proud to work with volunteers on a daily basis who genuinely care about their co-workers and the environment at OHSU. The Union isn’t some distant third party who makes cynical decisions in a vacuum for their own benefit. The Union is all of us. The Union leadership is elected by rank and file members and any member in good standing is HIGHLY encouraged to run for Union office.

    We need executive board members, we need stewards, and we need volunteers. Right now.

    (Please contact or if you’re interested)

    We can’t improve the work culture by bottling up our frustrations (either towards the Union or OHSU). For individuals who have prior frustrations with AFSCME, let us know.

    If we’re going to change things, we need to shine light on areas that aren’t necessarily fun and feel good. Please share your stories. Tell us what sort of OHSU you’d like to see. Tell us how we can do a better job.

    We’re all in this together.

  11. RESPECT FOR ALL SIGNAGE: While I am grateful for the thoughts of signage regarding “Respect for all,” that isn’t getting underrepresented employees more advancement opportunities. Many of us unrepresented minorities are disgusted that people who have never been discriminated against are the one’s who are implementing “solutions” as if they truly understand the BIG picture. (particularly the signage e-mail) The BIG picture is no matter what kind of signs are being distributed across campus, it doesn’t help us underrepresented minorities obtain career advancements. The “signage” is in all of the Union handbooks that require people to be treated the same and be given fair opportunities. OHSU is attempting to cover up the “obvious discrimination” by putting up signage, when most of us are educated enough to know that discrimination is wrong and they are not doing anything, but trying to cover up the numerous discriminatory issues that are all over campus.I’m appalled with the responses of people praising the signage and those people praising the signage are more than likely the ones who aren’t enduring discrimination and have no idea what underrepresented minorities are enduring on a daily basis. AFSCME Union is a blesssing to have, because if it wasn’t for our AFSCME Union team, many of us minorities would’ve been wrongfully terminated already!!!

    1. If OHSU and AFSCME agree on a contract and there is a process blind to everything and that begets a lack of advancement and opportunity, OHSU and AFSCME are both guilty. We need to work on this. Blaming OHSU when we agree to a contract and its rules is odd. As I said, I think it is a larger AFSCME effort not just at OHSU is necessarily. Who holds the OHSU AFSCME accountable? if it is the members who are 95% white – then I expect little to change. What about Oregon AFSCME or national or the super local whatever the hierarchy is, demanding change from the union and our local AFSCME?

      I appreciate the offer and thoughts about being a steward but I am really busy – and feel I pay the Union a lot of money for services and representation. I have patients to help and serve them first always.

      I am not quibbling over what I pay but rather that I would like to see the $ put into action and supporting minorities efforts we espouse rather than other places. If I see changes in AFSCME that I can get behind, I may step up but otherwise feel like the token individual doing the hard work for the group paid to do it.

      This is not a simple problem and not one sided at all, I like the talk. Everyone needs to make changes and take steps forward, myself, my boss, ohsu and our Union. I think showing everyone our Union is a leader by demonstrating diversity not talking about it a necessary step.

      1. I appreciate your comments, we need to talk this through. For the existing leadership just to say “here is the plan” would be disrespectful, in my opinion, because we are underrepresented in the areas that the plan would be designed to address. We need minority community help in creating the plan.

  12. So there are roughly 125 union reps for 6000 members? How many of those reps are of minority? How many cases does the union see in a week? How many of those cases fall through the cracks?

    Whatever the case is the union needs to get it together before bargaining starts again.

    1. 90 of those reps don’t take cases, their role is primarily communication. We could use some volunteers. You are welcome to be one.

    2. Have you volunteered? ITs hard to get people to take these unpaid positions. if you are so heated, do something about it! Help out! Get it together before the next bargaining!

  13. Yes we need to do a better job in our out reach and recruitment of people of color. And you do need a more diverse group of member leaders and paid staff representatives.
    But to acccomplish these goals we must have underrepresented people step up and become member leaders. I too work in patient care. I have a family and friends as do all our member leaders but we chose to take on these positions in a attempt to better our work place and community.
    So I again call call on those who feel their voices are not being heard or feel pushed aside please voluteer in our union. We can find a role that fits your needs. We need your help to fulfill our mission of inclusion and quality representation of ALL the members of our local.

  14. It took me going to the bureau of labor and industry to get my supervisor to stop with some of the blatant racism and sexism in my department. I am bold and brave enough to let management know that I have an attorney, and will file with BOLI again if needed. Of course this means that I am more scrutinized when I work. Dennis Z was a huge help to me during my issues with management.

  15. I was asked by my supervisor to name 3 things I liked about myself because I am “Asian” and this is what “Asians” do. I was so humiliated I could cry. I was also insulted bc I am not full Asian but was being put on the spot by a very cruel person.

    1. Is that person still working there, L? that is unacceptable to treat you that way and it just shows the lack of sensitivity to our different cultures across campus. Lets work together to get these issues resolved!

  16. Wow ! Is it just me or has anyone else notice the pattern on the blog, as long has OHSU dosent look bad or has not been called out on something the comments are small and civil but if it shows OHSU in a bad light then out comes the union bashing “Members” pointing fingers and demanding things done but yet they offer zero solutions, suggestions and are unwilling to step up. We saw these “Members” work during contract talks and now we seeing it here.

    1. May be we care more about getting paid and our jobs – then doing the AFSCME’s work? I mean we do pay AFSCME right? And we don’t have a choice, right?

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