June 27 marked another historic day for AFSCME Local 328. We don’t believe that our members have ever before marched into a meeting of the OHSU board of directors. We were expecting a good turnout for this event, but the unprecedented number of members who showed up today blew away our expectations. More than 100 Local 328 members and allies filled the room, to the point that some folks had to stand.
While it was disappointing that we weren’t able to deliver our statement to the board directly, our mere presence and the sea of green sent a strong message. Our members were respectful and courteous as we filled the room, stayed for the initial remarks and showed OHSU what solidarity looks like. We’re so proud of everyone who attended.
After filing out of the meeting room, we gathered outside the Robertson Life Sciences Building and held a brief rally, where Local 328 president Matt Hilton delivered the statement that had been prepared for the board. The cheers and enthusiastic support of our members meant a great deal to our bargaining-team members who were in attendance or watching on social media. Shortly after the event concluded, a copy of our statement was sent to Connie Seeley, OHSU’s executive vice president/chief administrative officer/chief of staff, to distribute to the board of directors.
Make no doubt, our union has clearly communicated to OHSU that our members are engaged and paying attention. We are optimistic that management will work with our union to reach an agreement a fair contract that shows they recognize the value our almost 7,000 represented employees bring to OHSU. With mediation starting again on Friday, we’re about to find out.
Dr. Jacobs and members of the OHSU board, my name is Matt Hilton and I am speaking on behalf of AFSCME Local 328. I’d like to ask those who are here today in support of our union to please rise. Thank you for hearing us.
Workers at OHSU democratically chose AFSCME as their voice back in 1985. Our union currently represents about 7,000 employees in more than 300 different job classifications at OHSU. Our bargaining unit covers not just workers in the Portland metro area, but also those from Astoria to Ashland, from Longview to La Grande.
Many AFSCME-represented employees have dedicated a significant portion of their working lives to this employer and to serving OHSU’s mission — by supporting nationally recognized patient care, by ensuring research grants are processed accurately, by helping educate the next generation of medical professionals, by keeping OHSU’s patients and employees fed and its facilities functional.
Some of us remember when we lost coworkers and friends to mass layoffs about 10 years ago during the recession. Many of us remember when a 6% pension contribution was shifted to be funded out of our pockets in 2012. Most of us remember the 2015 change that increased by 30% the amount of time it takes to reach the top of our earning potential. Since then we’ve worked under various cost containment measures, but continue to shine and show admirable dedication and compassion, day after day.
In 2018, AFSCME surveyed our members about housing issues. 40% of respondents reported difficulty in making a housing payment during the past year. The same number reported spending 40% or more of their take-home pay on rent or mortgage payments, with 16% saying they spend more than half of their take-home pay on housing. More than 40% reported moving at least once in the past five years in order to find more affordable housing, with more than 10% reporting having moved at least three times in the past five years. As our region continues to change and grow, economic insecurity is a concern for more and more OHSU employees. As you’re well aware, OHSU is experiencing record profits. As you’re equally aware, OHSU and AFSCME are currently engaged in collective bargaining.
Record profits for an employer shouldn’t mean record-out-of-pocket costs for employees, many of whom are already struggling financially. As the sole academic medical center in the state of Oregon—one whose stated mission includes improving the health and well-being of all Oregonians, no less—it is very difficult to reconcile a proposal designed to make covering one’s spouse on the OHSU health plan so financially onerous that employees would be forced to move their spouses to a worse health-insurance plan. In many cases, the employer-provided plans OHSU has proposed we shunt our spouses to are literally the legally allowable minimum, with additional fees, copays and restrictive networks.
At the bargaining table, OHSU’s team asked our union’s team what the market rationale is for asking OHSU to subsidize other employers’ health care costs. Rather than thinking of it those terms, we feel it’s more appropriate to ask why the health and wellbeing of all Oregonians doesn’t include that of OHSU’s own employees’ loved ones. It should also be noted that as a public employer, OHSU benefits from a tort cap and a medical-malpractice cap, and receives public funding, including 200-million dollars to prime the pump for the Knight Challenge. Simply stated, OHSU enjoys significant public benefits that other employers do not.
In terms of OHSU’s PTO proposal, HR representatives have mentioned many times that PTO offers more flexibility. This may be true for salaried managers and faculty who don’t need to make up time when they need to leave work early to take care of a sick child or when they need to come in late due to a medical appointment, but it certainly isn’t true for those of us who punch a clock and must account for every hour of our workday. HR has also stated that PTO is an attractive recruiting tool. Our members believe that things like affordable medical benefits, and wages that keep up with the cost of living, are far better at attracting and retaining employees.
Many of the unclassified employees who were forced into the PTO system didn’t want to make the switch. OHSU’s nurses made it clear with their last contract that they have no interest in PTO. AFSCME and our members were clear we didn’t want to switch to this system in 2017 and we don’t want it now.
Please understand that AFSCME’s goal is to reach a fair and equitable contract with OHSU. We want OHSU to succeed — but that success should lift all boats. Shared sacrifice should at times be offset by shared prosperity. Our members have been loyal to this employer, even during tough times, and we’re an important part of OHSU’s success. We shouldn’t be faced with a contract that would lower our standard of living and that would, in many instances, affect our ability to afford to even continue working at OHSU.
On behalf of the AFSCME Local 328 bargaining team and the almost 7,000 OHSU employees that we represent, thank you for your time and consideration.