June 13 was a historic day for AFSCME Local 328. In response to an unprecedented level of take-backs proposed by management, our members and their families rallied at the Mac Hall fountain alongside labor allies and supporters to let OHSU know that draconian cost-shifting of health-insurance expenses to employees and paying wages that don’t cover cost of living are non-starters.
Based on the numbers from our sign-in sheets and the amount of food consumed, we estimate that 900 people came out to stand with us in our fight for a fair contract from OHSU. We were joined by other union members at OHSU — Graduate Researchers United and the Oregon Nurses Association — as well as many unclassified OHSU employees. Other attendees included Jobs with Justice, members of other Oregon AFSCME local unions, CWA, SEIU, AFT and Letter Carriers, as well as representatives from the newly created Little Big Union. Given the strong community support, the AFSCME Local 328 executive board will explore creating a solidarity fund to show support and share resources when it comes time for our allies to bargain.
Two days prior to the rally, OHSU asked for proof that our union had sufficient insurance coverage for the event. We were able to address this issue in a timely manner to ensure the rally could proceed as planned, but wish the employer had brought this up earlier in the process. In the build-up to the event, management had also raised concerns about violence and property damage arising as result of the rally; these concerns surely must have evaporated as soon as the event began. This gathering was about solidarity, camaraderie and relaxing with friends and family, and it showed.
Early in the event, hundreds of our members took part in a silent, contractually permissible protest to send a clear message to OHSU that we are standing together against their take-backs and that we insist on being treated with respect. Attendees heard from a range of speakers, including members of our bargaining team and Stacey Chamberlain, AFSCME Council 75 executive director and member of the OHSU board of directors. Footage of the rally was broadcast on Fox 12 the evening of the event.
Does a well-attended rally resolve the outstanding issues at the bargaining table? Far from it. While the support is a necessity to the process — and greatly appreciated by the bargaining team — the burden is on OHSU to bring our union a contract package that meets our membership’s needs. Absent that, our union will have no other choice than to (a) escalate or (b) settle for a substandard contract. As we move into the final phases of bargaining, it’s imperative that our members consider what they’re willing to do to escalate if OHSU will not move at the table. Escalation will likely involve an informational picket and a strike authorization vote. As we’ve previously stated, a strike is a last resort and can only be authorized by our members.