The “S Word”

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—guest post by board member Christine Murray—

The stewards and member leaders of AFSCME Local 328 have received more than a few inquiries about the possibility of a strike. It’s not hard to see why after reviewing the proposals made by OHSU during bargaining. For most of our members, the idea of going on strike is uncharted territory and there are many questions. This article hopes to answer some of these questions and help our members make decisions about preparing for a possible strike.

The word “strike” is not one to be used lightly when a union is in negotiations with management. A strike is the most powerful tool our union has when it comes to forcing management to deal honestly and fairly with our membership. It is also a tool of last resort. There are still many weeks of negotiation ahead of us, and there are many other actions our union can take to put pressure on management and encourage OHSU to deal fairly with us.

Still, the possibility exists that OHSU will persist in offering us an unfair contract that increases our health-insurance costs (reduced premium contributions, spousal surcharge), reduces our vacation time and restricts our access to sick time (PTO), imposes a harsher attendance policy (three occurrences in a 160-day period may trigger discipline) and forces employees to stay in their old department for up to eight weeks before they can transfer to a new position at OHSU. OHSU might also continue to insist that the cost of correcting a history of inequitable pay for women and minorities should be borne by AFSCME members, in the form of denying us our earned progression increases and holding back a portion of our across-the-board raises. If this happens, our members will have to make some choices.

The first thing to know is that Local 328 leadership does not make the decision to strike. It is a decision we all make together as dues-paying members. When OHSU’s final proposal is offered to AFSCME, we will vote to accept it or reject it. This means that the most important thing our members can do to prepare is to stay informed about where our negotiations stand and be ready to vote when the time comes. Low turnout means that our members could wind up having to accept an inadequate contract they do not agree with and which hurts them financially. It is absolutely critical that all members vote both in the current bargaining survey and on the proposed contract later on!

The second thing to know is that every member needs to be preparing right now for the possibility of a strike. OHSU is already preparing. Yes, you read that right. OHSU is already making plans for a potential strike, so it is not enough for us to simply be angry about management’s proposed take-backs during a time of record profit. With $1.5 billion cash on hand, you can bet OHSU will be well prepared should it come to a strike — if we want to be successful, then we need to be prepared, too. The threat of a strike only has power if the members of Local 328 can and will carry out that threat — to do that we must stick together and prepare.

A strike can last a few days or several weeks — the more employees who go out and stay out, the greater the pressure on the employer to settle quickly. To be clear, it is by no means certain that Local 328 will need to strike. We have much more work to do before things get to that point. However; having seen what OHSU has proposed to us and knowing that management is already preparing for the possibility of a strike means we need to be ready. So how does one prepare for a strike? Below are a number of steps members can take to prepare financially.

OHSU is in the best financial shape in its history. We all hope that management will remember that it sacrifices made during the recession by AFSCME-represented employees helped OHSU come out strong and healthy and will bargain with us accordingly. But we can’t count on it. Now is the time to prepare. We stand strong when we stand together!

Setting Money Aside

  • Consider changing your W4 withholding status to the maximum amount allowed and putting the extra money into a savings account to be used only in the event of a strike. If you decide to change your withholding status, log into Oracle Employee Self Service and select “W4 Tax Form.” (Be sure to change your status back after the threat of a strike has passed.)
  • Hold off on purchasing discretionary items or taking on any new payments for the duration of negotiations. If you have time off coming up, plan a staycation.
  • Start packing your lunch and bringing coffee from home. Staying away from the cafeterias and coffee stands will increase your savings, plus the decrease in revenue will send a message to OHSU that its employees are preparing.
  • Volunteer for overtime when it’s offered at work and set that money aside.

Dealing with Creditors

  • Contact your landlord or mortgage company now to see if they have programs to work with people on strike. Letting them know ahead of time will help you plan properly.
  • Contact your credit-card companies and negotiate a plan for making payments for the possible duration of a strike. Companies will work with you if you plan ahead.
  • Check whether your utility companies offer the option to equalize monthly payments. If this option is available and will lower your monthly payments, sign up and save the difference.

Making Other Preparations

  • If you and your family have any routine medical needs, make your appointments now. Make sure your prescriptions are refilled—get a three-month supply if you can.
  • Plant a garden. The Oregon Food Bank offers free seeds and starts and many libraries have community seed banks. A small plot can supply a family with a lot of food.
  • Start purchasing extra staples every week. Load up on canned goods and other non-perishable items and fill your freezer. It’s always good to be prepared, and planning ahead now means smaller grocery bills later.
  • Talk to your family, friends, church leaders and other support systems. Let them know you are preparing for the possibility of a strike at work. They may be willing to assist.
  • Start coordinating with family and friends about the helping with childcare during a strike. You may be able to trade days with other AFSCME members or coordinate a group to rotate childcare responsibilities.
  • Update your résumé. Getting a part-time job during a strike is an excellent way to weather the storm during a long strike, if it comes to that.
  • May is the time for voluntary cash-out requests. Consider opting to cash out some of your vacation and comp-time accruals. Due to timing (May requests are paid out in the second half of the year), these funds wouldn’t be available right away, but a financial boost in late summer or early fall could be helpful in the event that our union did end up striking.

11 thoughts on “The “S Word””

  1. Thank you for starting this discussion early. It’s important information for the membership to have as early as possible.

  2. OHSU administration has a decision to make regarding who and what they truly value. Respect and care for your workforce, OHSU!

  3. Thank you for the information! I hope members take the survey, wear union swag, SHOW UP for demonstrations, and participate in other ways to show OHSU we are serious when it comes to requiring respect from our employer.

  4. Thank you for this! Does AFSCME have a bucket of money that we can contribute to in case of a strike to help others who may not have the wherewithal to get by during a strike?
    I’m keeping my AFSCME folks up-to-date on the progress of the negotiations. I’ve seen very little empathy for folks in non-management positions by OHSU managers.

  5. Thank you for this article. The word strike can be scary for some, but we should never forget the other S word, SOLIDARITY. Management is betting against us, they are going to try to exploit our fears of not being able to provide for ourselves and our families. But I ask how well can we provide for ourselves and our families with the proposed take back’s undercutting our families financial bottom line? Last contract they took 6% from our retirement and put it in our checks instead, they now claim that they pay us above market. That 6% wasn’t a raise, it was a reallocation. How short of an attention span does OHSU think we have? Do you know what has my attention? The cost of working for OHSU. How much time & money do we pay in the form of parking & transportation? How much does trying to live near OHSU cost in a market with skyrocketing housing prices? Didn’t have time to pack a lunch? Cool, you can just pick up a really expensive salad from the cafeteria. Do you know what else has my attention?The executive bonuses OHSU handed out while laying off my co-workers, and asking the rest of us to do more with less. But here are the two most important questions: How long does it take to train a new employee in our respective work units? How well would OHSU function without us, if we stick together? We all know the answer to these two questions. OHSU cannot successfully weather a strike if we stand up for each other, and stand together. That is power, our power. SOLIDARITY!

    1. I agree with all of this. I, personally, have brought in more than $250,000 in pre surgery collections in the last 3 weeks, 20 /times MORE than what is required by my position. Think they’ll miss my contributions? I’m ready to find out.

    2. Random thoughts:

      Could management find enough replacement workers who would pass a drug test and cross a picket line?

      I remember the ONA strike. It was chaos for us left behind.

      I’m still outraged by the EVS scandal back when.

  6. Hi Jennifer, can you either delete the last comment or delete my picture? I didn’t realize it would post my picture. No clue how that happened! Thanks!

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