3/12 Bargaining Session — Relief Employees

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At the conclusion of last week’s bargaining session, the two teams decided to set the issues for today’s bargaining session. We decided to work on issues where we believed both teams shared concerns and interests so that the IBB process would go more smoothly while the teams are still in a learning curve.

Today we discussed the use of relief employees and flex-staff employees and began to outline our concerns about a number of issues regarding inclusion/accommodation for language, religious and other reasons.

We were able to reach agreement on the non-economic relief-employee issues. We ended the day with an introductory discussion of what we are calling an “accommodations package,” which would address a number of community/inclusion/accommodation issues. We didn’t have an opportunity to problem-solve the flex-staff issues so deferred that to next week’s session.

Today’s Progress

We began the day by talking about relief- and flex-employee issues and interests. The issues around 5.27 – Relief Employees that were identified by the teams centered on several concerns:

  • Relief employees are not being used in accordance with the contract language – in many cases, OHSU is hiring relief employees when they should be hiring regular FTE employees.
  • Relief employees are not able to use accrued sick leave when they need to access short-term disability.
  • Relief employees are only required to work and be available for two days per month, which limits their ability to actually be used to relieve regular FTE employees.
  • Relief employees have no consistent way to access vacation.
  • There are inconsistent practices in the organization with regard to relief employees’ rights and obligations related to overtime, sick leave and vacation.
  • The Affordable Care Act will have effects on relief employees when they work more than 30 hours per week.

The issues raised around 5.11 – Flex Staff Employees included:

  • Some departments are using full-time flex-staff hires as entry-level positions.
  • Flex staff are often being used when relief or regular FTE employees would be more appropriate.
  • Flex-staff employees are frequently hired at the lowest step of the pay scale.
  • The Affordable Care Act will have effects on flex employees when they work more than 30 hours per week.

The teams agreed that many of the relief and flex issues overlap and that, although they would be considered separately, we might have to go back and review agreements made in one area based on agreements made in the other, if they conflicted or added additional elements which might apply to both.

The teams reached the following tentative agreement on the use of relief employees:

  • Relief employees who would otherwise be eligible for short-term disability insurance will be allowed to exhaust their sick leave so that they may receive short-term disability benefits. The parties will develop a process to assure that this happens in a consistent manner.
  • Relief employees will be included in holiday bids and assignments.
  • Relief employees must declare their availability to work on at least four dates per pay period, and may be required to work any shift on the dates they declared. The employer doesn’t need to schedule/use them on all of their declared days.
  • Relief employees will participate in the vacation-scheduling process.
  • The definition of relief employees will be updated to include that they may be hired for “short-term projects and short- term supplementation of existing staffing.”

Still unresolved is a union proposal that relief employees should receive holiday pay – this is an economic issue and will be considered along with other economic proposals.

Accommodations Package

We began a discussion of our accommodations package, to be worked on in more depth at a future bargaining session:

  • Providing job modifications for employees having a temporary restriction caused by non-job-related illness or injury.
  • Providing prayer space for employees.
  • Accommodating the needs of employees with religious dietary restrictions (e.g., kosher, halal) who currently share food-preparation space with employees who do not practice similar restrictions.
  • Making gender-neutral restrooms available.
  • Remedying a whole range of problems associated with language barriers and literacy concerns that encompass understanding information such as safety instructions, OHSU benefits information, the union contract and OHSU/work-unit policies and procedures.
  • Providing on-site translation services for employee needs (e.g., during an investigatory interview)

As always, Local 328 will be keeping you informed about our progress as these and other issues come to the table.

33 thoughts on “3/12 Bargaining Session — Relief Employees”

  1. I am particularly pleased to see that we are bargaining for providing job modifications for employees having a temporary restriction caused by non-job-related illness or injury. I think the current policy of not providing any accommodation for an injured employee when the accommodation could keep the injured employee on the job, productive and benefits eligible is especially important given that otherwise these employees have to not only recover from their illness/injury but in some cases provide their own replacement health insurance when they can least afford it.

    1. Leah and everyone: we are asking for individuals who have been denied a temporary job modification to share your stories with us – you can do this privately. We won’t identify you by name, but it’s definitely more powerful if we can share real examples with the management bargaining team. You can send your experiences to me at lovell@oregonafscme.com

    -They want us to bid on holidays when we do not get holiday pay
    on days we are not here.
    -Work 8 days per month instead of 2.In pharmacy they already require relief to work every other weekend which is 4 days per month and not following the contract.
    -Be available for all shifts: day, swing, and evening. Not ok when many people do not even get benefits.
    -Do we acquire seniority points as relief? Are the seniority points acquired in the exact same way as a person with an FTE???
    -We are not guaranteed any hours at all as relief. But they want us to guarantee almost a 0.5 FTE!

    1. Thea – Relief employees accrue seniority just like FTE employees. The only contractual benefit that relief employees don’t currently receive is holiday pay and we are hoping to correct that when we discuss economics.

      The new language requires relief employee to identify four days per pay period of availability.

  3. I read the bargaining session abut relief employees dated March 12, 2015 and have comments. What is described is a definition of a 0.4FTE without benefits not a relief position. 4 days per pay would have to be committed to be available and work any shift. Yet the employer is not obliged to use relief employees if they choose not to. This is unacceptable. On top of that the plan is for relief employees to participate in the vacation-scheduling process and to be included in holiday bids and assignments. Those are also unacceptable. Looks like the employer is dictating those conditions because I cannot believe the Union would come up with a scenario that would hurt employees. This scenario has zero benefit for a relief employee but is very beneficial for the employer. Relief employees are never guaranteed any hours and thus should be able to pick their shifts like it is now. Relief employees cannot be forced to work without added benefits. The employer should propose to change their positions to an FTE if they have the need to require the above mentioned changes.

    1. Relief employees do get benefits. You might be thinking of flex employees. Part of the problem is that in many departments relief employees “cherry pick” the most desirable shifts and days off and leaving FTE employees to fill in the less desirable shifts and days off. This levels the playing field and gives FTE employees coverage on the shifts and days off when it is hardest to get coverage. We are still negotiating adding Holiday pay for relief employees, but won’t be able to resolve that issue until we get to the overall economics package.

  4. In my department only fiscal director, who supervises all the administrative/fiscal employees, is permitted to work at home. Other employees such as myself are not permitted to work at home, and this includes positions where most of our work is done by email and working at home sometimes could be easily accommodated. On the rare occasion where someone is sick but a project must be finished, an exception has been made but even then no one has access to xfiles. We also have no flexible scheduling. We all must sign in to a board in the front office and account for each moment of our time during the day. Everyone must begin between 7:30 and 8:00 am and end by 4:30 or 5:00 every day. I realize that OHSU is encouraging working at home and flexible scheduling when it can be done without affecting performance/work volume/customer service, but there is absolutely no flexibility in my department. I see coworkers leaving for departments where you can start as late as 10:00 am and leave as late as 7:00 pm, or work at home with access to your department’s online files whenever it would work, and are allowed to use judgment, etc. My issue is that I am starting to feel like I don’t have the same rights as other OHSU employees since there is no consideration of the environment, crowding on the hill, or work-life balance in my department. I realize flex-time and working at home need managerial approval, but my director is not getting the message in any way that these are good things. My environment is very oppressive. Will any of your negotiations ever address some more fairness in using these policies? We’ve recently lost two employees to departments with more humane working standards. I don’t feel that I should have to change jobs to accomplish this. Thanks very much for listening!

    Christine Bartley

    1. Thanks for your comments. You are not alone in making work life balance a high priority in these negotiations, many of your fellow members feel the same.

  5. I am a little confused about the need to bargain the issues of the 2 day per month “requirement” to work and the use of accrued vacation time by Relief Employees.
    Maybe it’s the variation between departments?
    As a Relief Employee (for several years now) I’ve had no issues with these two points.
    First, the contract states “Relief employees must be available
    to work at least two (2) shifts per calendar month as determined according to the Employer’s needs.” I have never been “required” to work at least 2 days per month (though I have always worked enough hours to maintain benefits), only to be “available” to work. And even then, if I were to be offered those two shifts, I would still have the option to decline without consequences.
    Regarding the use of vacation time, Relief Employees in our department have always had the option of using accrued vacation time, without prior approval, as long as we have accrued at least the number of hours to cover 1 shift (in our case 12), and none of those vacation hours would put us over the full time number of hours for that week.

    In our department, a list of Relief shifts are offered for pre-scheduling every 4 weeks. The shifts are awarded by seniority. It’s the process by which Relief Employees in our department get the majority of shifts for the 4 week schedule. The order shifts are awarded are as follows:

    Regular-Other (those with FTE’s below full-time or .9)
    Relief Employees
    Flex Employees
    Overtime (which I don’t think has ever been pre-scheduled)

    My issue (as well as other Relief Employees I have spoken with) is Regular-Other Employees having seniority over Relief Employees when shifts are offered in addition to the department’s total shift FTE.
    For example: An extra shift is offered. A Relief Employee with 15 years at OHSU who is high on the seniority list (by points) signs up for that shift. A new hire with a .75 FTE (technical full-time) also signs up for the same shift. The new hire will be awarded the shift, per the order above, without regard to seniority points (as long as the shift doesn’t exceed a total of .45 FTE for that week). My personal feeling is that this practice is unfair.

    1. Michael – yes there is great variation between departments. In some departments relief employees bid for vacations and holidays and in other departments they are not required to work holidays.

      Another concern that has been expressed is that in some departments they don’t have relief staff for all shifts. Day shift has access to relief staff, but the other shifts/weekends don’t.

      1. Is the bargaining regarding Relief and Flex Employees finished? Was there any discussion about Seniority when awarding extra shifts? I know, historically, union contracts specify shifts be awarded based on Seniority Points, not job classification (for the same job).

  6. I really hate to see the Union going down the path of advocating for religious preferences. I rather enjoy thinking of work as a secular space and time. It’s a relief from conflict in the world. It doesn’t seem necessary for people to prepare food at work. How about just keeping it simple and bring food with you from home!

    1. In our view it is about trying to make OHSU a welcoming place for employees in ways that don’t impact other employees negatively. Providing a place to warm food that doesn’t get used for pork products, for example, is a low cost, low impact way of improving the quality of work life for our members. It doesn’t detract in any way from others.

  7. Could someone please clarify the new holiday requirement for relief employees? With the new TA how many holidays does a relief employee have to work per year?

    1. They will be in the mix with regular employees and affected by the same contract language or consensus agreements affecting holiday scheduling.

      1. Are you saying relief staff MUST be placed in the mix with regular employees for EVERY holiday? If so, I see some unforeseen consequences with that language for 12 hr shift workers. Relief employees with low seniority could get put on the schedule for EVERY holiday if they do not have a specific quota to fill. It would be far more equitable if relief employees had a holiday requirement to fulfill. For example after working X amount of major holidays or X amount of minor holidays relief employees are exempt from working any more holidays for that year. Is there any further clarification which could be made with the holiday language before the final TA is signed.

        1. I guess I don’t understand why it’s more equitable for relief employees to have a limited holiday quota when FTE employees don’t have a limited holiday quota. Relief employees earn seniority, it’s not a given that any specific relief employee will be the lowest seniority employee in a work unit.

  8. Hi – many of us are relief for various reasons such as caring for family and forego things like benefits to be in a relief position. These new proposed changes would alter the previous expectations of relief employees, without any positives. In fact, the thought to agree to holiday shifts before ensuring holiday pay is insulting. It appears that the present Union representation is not advocating for relief employees at all. As equal members of the Union, is there anyone advocating for us or will there be any public forum where we can express our opinions?

  9. It is frustrating to me that each department at OHSU gets to interpret the language of the contract as it is convenient for them. As a relief employee for 7 years at OHSU, I have never been “assigned” a shift and I would like to keep it that way. I always meet my end of the bargain and sign up for shifts that need coverage every month, according to the department needs and MY AVAILABILITY. I am a relief employee for a reason – I have two other jobs. If relief employees start getting “assigned” random shifts, I will likely be forced to give up my position at OHSU.

    1. The new language would require relief employees to be available for more days than the the current two per month, but they still get to pick which days.

        1. The whole point of relief employees is to be available to cover FTE employees. If they aren’t available there’s not a lot of point in having them. Their lack of availability has been a problem identified by our members in the surveys.

        2. You would not be standing by as these are days YOU would pick that you could be available. After your availability is offered to the employer then a schedule is created and then you know in advance which days you are working. So this is not a request for you to give days in which you would be oncall or just waiting to be called in.

  10. My problem is providing 0.4FTE hours of availability-ALL shifts no less. I noticed someone above mentioned that just because you give availability, you are able to accept or decline those hours. That is not the case in our department. We give availability and are put on the schedule or not. We will then be allowed to bid on any open shifts AFTER the schedule is posted. Therefore, giving availability doesn’t give me the option of declining the shift. And now, by the new contract, I would be giving availability for ANY SHIFT? I just can’t do it. Like someone else mentioned, I would have to give up my position-A RELIEF POSITION? Doesn’t that seem wrong somehow?

    I am relief for a reason. If I could work more, I would aim to get a position that would guarantee more. Let’s keep relief employees on a playing field that is more level.

    1. One concern is that under the contract relief employees are for the purpose of providing coverage for illness, vacations and other unplanned staff shortages. When they only make themselves available for premium shifts and days that leaves FTE employees to cover all the undesirable shifts and days of the week. If relief employees aren’t going to be covering those times, it weakens the reasons for having relief employees at all. Relief employees earn vacation, sick leave and health insurance, the expectations are higher than for flex staff who get no benefits. The goal here is to try to improve working conditions for all OHSU employees, this new language does make the playing field more level for everyone.

      1. This is not how it works at many of the clinics. Relief supplies labor when their is a schedule shift available due to illness or short staff of regular fate positions. Frank, what you say makes little sense- when do they get to cherry-pick the best shifts?

        1. The practice varies from department to department, but in our surveys and our experience, many times FTE employees are mandatoried to work undesirable shifts because relief employees only designate, say, day shift and no weekends as their availability. In some places, relief employees are used more like FTE employees, which is also a problem because, if a department needs FTE employees they should hire them, not depend on relief to fill regular jobs. The current contract requires only the relief employees be available a minimum of two days per month which they can designate. Many designate more. However, they don’t have to work on days they haven’t designated. Many departments don’t follow the contract in this regard and don’t give relief employees a choice. That’s part of the problem as well. Even though relief will now be required to designate more days than they did in the past, if departments are made to follow the contract, relief employees will still have more control over their schedule than FTE employees.

  11. Meant to comment earlier but am greatly heartened to hear that talk about gender-neutral bathrooms will be on the table. As a transgender employee, these bathrooms would remove a lot of the anxiety from just needing to use the bathroom without being looked at funny. As it is I don’t even know where the nearest gender neutral bathroom is, or how to find it; I actually tried asking the Center for Diversity and Inclusion (at the last university I worked at, the equivalent department maintained a list of gender-neutral bathrooms and their locations; there was also new language passed to make sure any new buildings that went up also required at least one gender-neutral bathroom in the plans) but never got an answer.

    So anyway, very glad to hear this will be up for discussion.

  12. Relief employees don’t “cherry pick” the best shifts – the shifts they pick are still covering vacation and sick time for full and PT FTE employees. And Frank, many relief workers have jobs outside of OHSU and DO work at those jobs on the weekends – just FYI and that is why we aren’t available on the weekends.

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