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.

12 thoughts on “Up Against The Wall At OHSU”

  1. Unacceptable! There is no excuse for this behavior and if it were a non supervisor or manager I am sure this employee would have been fired. I am horrified to think about the staff who are expected to report to this person whom they have every reason to fear.

  2. HR needs to review the Code of Conduct because I can pick out several violations from this story.
    It is my belief that supervisors and managers are pardoned because they’re more difficult to replace. Some departments look for managers for months when the previous one simply moves on to another job. However, it is also my belief that when managers violate the Code of Conduct, they should be coached as any other employee is.

    1. I agree with you in a lot of ways, Melissa! However, it seems that OHSU tends to re-hire bad managers and replace them in different departments. Bad managers always get second and third chances when they should be letting bad managers go and hiring new managers. I have seen a VP nearly get fired from the Integrity office and now we have the “joy” of getting stuck with this discriminative person running our department. This happens all the time at OHSU and its one of the biggest problems AFSCME staff and others have to deal with.

  3. What if your union defended an employee who was caught masterbating at his computer at work? It happened. public safety was called and caught him. Sure enough he was back on the job. Be careful who you shake hands with.

  4. No lessons learned from the EVS campaign that where applied outside that deptment. Seem to me there needs to be a better process to address these type of occurrences. Say a reporting process independent of OHSU.

  5. I used to work there with John. This event sounds very out of the ordinary for the department. OHSU makes a lot of money. They should cut the crap, get their shit together, pay for some decent equipment, and stop manhandling their employees. Good luck out there.

    1. Hi Kyle, Yes, they do need to walk the talk and its always easier to make a comment like OHSU did, to make it seem like they care, but WE ALL know everyone is entitled to a healthy work environment, but it is simply not the case here at OHSU. It is simply common sense to know that everyone is entitled to a healthy work environment, but they are not promoting a diverse population of managers throughout the hospital. If a manager fails horribly in one department, they simply move them to another department. We had one Director who committed fraud (among many other violations) and she was re-hired twice after she was forced to leave our department. A lot of times promotions are based on how much *ss people kiss. The culture needs to change and by us ADSCME members standing together we can make a difference!

  6. As a person who has family members who work up there at OHSU I would think that OHSU would take the safety and concerns of their staff as a high priority. It concerns me greatly that this supervisor is left in his supervisory role after harassing an employee. This supervisor should be put on paid administrative leave while he gets retrained on harassment laws and training. However, if this is not his first offense then he should be fired. OHSU cannot afford to have an employee cost them a lawsuit due to their negligence in removing that employee from their staff after there has been shown a problem with harassment from that staff member. That can open OHSU up to a class action lawsuit.

    1. I’ll have to check. This may be an outgrowth of some of the work we are doing with OHSU stemming from our “community pipeline” letter of agreement, but since I am not directly working on that project I don’t know for sure. Thank you for bringing this to our attention.

  7. No one is difficult to replace, its just inconvenient to the higher ups and it makes them look bad when people below them act in such a way but not bad enough to fire them . I can speak from experience that they just find or make up a new position for their problem child. I know a woman that left OHSU after 12 years because of a manager and after his actions and lies came to light and the bogus investigatory meetings and other mental abuse he put her thru they just fast tracked him off to another department. 12 years of experience, and country wide contacts lost to OHSU because they go out of their way to protect their bad apples.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

You may use these HTML tags and attributes: <a href="" title=""> <abbr title=""> <acronym title=""> <b> <blockquote cite=""> <cite> <code> <del datetime=""> <em> <i> <q cite=""> <s> <strike> <strong>