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.