—guest post by member Anna G.*—
I began my career at OHSU in 2012. When I was choosing which clinical site to spend my externship at, OHSU was the very first choice on my list. I still remember the butterflies in my stomach when I received confirmation that I would be learning at this institution. My face lit up with pride and glee every time I told someone where I worked. My family was absolutely ecstatic when they learned that I would be starting my career at OHSU. I was the first woman in my family on both sides to graduate from high school, much less go to college. There were times when my grandmother would tell strangers in the supermarket while I took her shopping, and the glow in her face as she did this would bring me tears of joy. I couldn’t have been more proud and delighted to be affiliated with OHSU.
Not long after I started at OHSU, the first round of AFSCME contract negotiations came about. It was disheartening to learn that so many take-backs had occurred. I especially remember the longer duration for step increases and how it would take more years of employment to reach the top of my pay scale. Even so, I still held onto the joy and pride I felt to be part of such an amazing hospital.
A couple more years went by and I started to feel a bit more ragged. The workload and patient population had increased substantially, yet the staffing levels had not. I was being forced to work a lot of mandatory overtime to make up for it. I had to stay late and come in on my days off on a weekly basis. As a single mother, this was very taxing. I was starting to miss out on my children’s lives, due to having mandatory overtime constantly hanging over my head. I couldn’t afford OHSU’s high parking rates, and instead rode public transit to work from across the city — my three-hour round-trip commute added to my frustration. Even with all the hours commuting and working at a fast pace, I was still a proud employee of OHSU.
Then everything took a turn for the worse — a coworker started harassing me. After a year of asking him to leave me alone and stop paying me so much unwanted attention, I faced my fear, risked humiliation and spoke up, asking for help from my supervisor. I thought that my courage in seeking help with the situation would be dealt with appropriately — after all, it’s OHSU, the hospital that talks about diversity and “respect for all” as easily and as often as the rain falls in the Pacific Northwest.
My concerns were alternately ignored and dismissed by my supervisor, and the harasser’s behavior was allowed to continue. My coworkers started to become concerned. I became an empty shell of a woman. I feared coming to work. My self-worth and self-esteem had all but disappeared. I was told that I was creating discontent in the workplace and was made to feel as though all this was somehow my fault. His actions were being validated by inaction and the whole thing was being swept under the carpet. With nowhere else to turn, I reached out to my Local 328 representative.
Within 10 minutes of the conversation, my union rep had me on the phone with two different departments for help. My rep went to bat for me in all of the management offices in my department, demanding that something be done. My rep gave me the advice I needed and made me feel heard and that someone was on my side. Even with my union representative fighting for me, I still had to utilize the justice system in order to ensure my safety at work. After all the time, anxiety, sleepless nights and heartache, I was finally able to come to work without fear of sexual harassment. I was able to start to breathe again — or so I thought.
The retaliation from OHSU that ensued after this hit me like a ton of bricks. All I ever did was cry for help, but I was punished for bringing light to my situation. How dare I tarnish the golden name of OHSU?
All this went on while my department was consistently understaffed, while my overworked coworkers and I attended meetings where staff were told about record-breaking exam numbers for our department and record-breaking profits. Now OHSU wants to take more away from me and my family. My family and I used to feel pride and joy about my employment at OHSU. Now that has been replaced by fear, sadness and distrust.
We need our union to fight for us. I can’t imagine how my situation would have turned out without our union supporting me. I can’t imagine how much worse OHSU would become without our union keeping it in check. Our solidarity means more now than it ever has.
*Name has been changed.