3/26 Bargaining Session — Work/Life Balance

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Two issues dominated the discussion today, which ended up demonstrating distinct differences between the approaches of the union and management teams.

Food and Nutrition Mobile-Device Usage

Although the first issue only directly affects a few food-service workers, it highlights an issue of basic fairness and equal treatment for members, in the union’s opinion — or, from management’s perspective, of workplace policy being micromanaged by the union contract.

The story in this: Employees in the retail section of the Department of Food and Nutrition were prohibited from using cell phones or other electronic devices in any of OHSU’s cafeterias while on their breaks or lunch. No other employees face this prohibition. Further, most other employees have access to clean, private break rooms with good cell-phone reception, something the food-service employees lack. These employees filed a group grievance and, through a labor/management committee, reached an interim solution that allowed retail employees use their phones as long as they wore a jacket or some kind of outerwear to cover their uniform shirts. This really wasn’t satisfactory as a long-term solution because breaks are not generally long enough for members to go get their jackets, return to the cafeteria for their break and then return their jackets and get back to work on time.

The union team raised this issue at the bargaining table today and it developed into a discussion that quickly took on institution-wide implications. The union sees this as an issue of basic fairness — food-service retail employees who aren’t allowed to use their phones can sit side-by-side at a table with other uniformed employees who are allowed to use their phones. The OHSU team feels strongly that department policies governing employee behavior should not be part of the contract, and they did not want to create language that would dictate policy to departments not involved in this problem.

The agreement arrived at was to reconstitute a Food and Nutrition labor/management committee, consisting of three union members chosen by the union (including one paid union staff representative), and up to three management members to be chosen by OHSU. The committee will be co-facilitated by one union staff representative and one Human Resources representative. The union committee members will participate on paid time. If this committee doesn’t reach consensus on a solution to this issue by May 31, the issue will come back to the bargaining table.

Scheduling Issues

The second main topic of discussion at today’s session had to do with three scheduling issues raised by management. The articles in question are:

  • 7.2 — Scheduling of Work: the required 28-day notice for schedule changes
  • 9.3 — Change in Reporting Time: the contract rules regarding changes in start time
  • 19.10 — Shift Curtailment and Cancelation (cutting a shift short or canceling an entire shift): the method by which staff curtailments and shift cancelations happen

We worked through the stories and interests behind these three issues and made progress in formulating potential solutions. Unfortunately, we were unable to reach an agreement before our day concluded, so we’ll pick up the discussion as our first order of business next Thursday.

In keeping with our ground rules, we do not disclose specific statements made by the parties in our bargaining updates. However, it is important that we hear your thoughts about the importance of these three articles and how changes to them would affect you and your work/life balance — please be sure to leave your comments below.

3/19 Bargaining Session — Flex-Staff Employees Gain

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Today’s Progress

Our day started with a big agenda. At the end of the day the two teams reached agreement on only one issue, but it was a big issue for flex staff. For those unfamiliar, flex staff employees aren’t eligible for benefits, don’t receive annual pay increases and aren’t covered by a lot of the language in our contract — they sort of function as an alternative to temp-agency staff.

The union was very clear about our members’ interests throughout the day:

  • Fairness
  • Consistency
  • An easier-to-understand contract
  • An end to the use of flex staff in lower-paid, entry-level positions
  • An end to the use of flex staff to fill positions that should be filled by regular employees

After a lengthy discussion of the interests of both teams, and a longer-than-usual brainstorming session on potential solutions, the teams took a break from the joint session and each team took the opportunity to draft comprehensive responses. Under the ground rules for interest-based bargaining we do not disclose the specific “brainstorms” that lead to a solution, because we do not want to inhibit the ability of the parties to be creative. However, while both parties recognized the problems, they both presented very different solutions.

Both teams had several common elements in their proposed solutions:

  • Simplifying the contract language (the current flex-staff language is a five-page appendix)
  • Preserving the ability of flex-staff employees to be effective contingent workers, helping to meet OHSU’s operational needs
  • Giving flex staff more rights under the contract, to be more integrated into the OHSU workforce

Both teams also recognized that the contract did not intend that flex employees be used as low-wage, non-benefitted, entry-level workers.

In the end, a tentative agreement reached at the end of a long day of negotiations.

Under the agreement reached, flex staff hired into the departments that make up half of the lowest paid portion of the flex-staff work force — Sterile Processing, Patient Transportation and Environmental Services — will be hired at the top of the first quartile of the pay range (7.5% above entry level).

This means that current flex-staff employees in those departments who are earning near entry-level wages will get a pay raise of up to 7.5% when the new contract goes into effect.

In addition to the increased pay for many flex staff, the contract language will provide for new job-bidding rights for flex employees. Appendix B – Conditions of Flex Staff Employment is being greatly simplified, and many of the exclusions from the contract are being eliminated.

Finally, we agreed on a definition of flex staff that clearly identifies that these employees are to be used for supplemental staffing and projects — short-term use — rather than for filling vacancies that require long-term, recurring, regular schedules.

Overall, this was a very successful day of bargaining, resulting in some nice gains for our flex staff, particularly those in lower-paid classifications.

Upcoming Topics

Topics to be bargained on over the next few weeks include mobile-device usage by Food and Nutrition employees, scheduling of work, changes in reporting time, shift curtailment and cancelation.

Local 328 will be keeping you informed about our progress as these and other issues come to the table. We welcome feedback in the comments on our blog and in our Facebook group.

3/12 Bargaining Session — Relief Employees

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Overview

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.

Bargaining Teams Begin Contract Talks 3/5

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Proposals & Topics

During the bargaining process, what we call a proposal is specific contract language that either side puts on the table for consideration. An interest-based bargaining topic is a general statement of a problem area that either team puts forward to be used a subject for discussion using our agreed-upon problem-solving process. Another way of thinking about this is that proposals represent traditional bargaining and topics represent problem statements to be resolved using IBB.

Prior to beginning IBB, management introduced some proposals for the union’s consideration. Several of these proposals were responses to proposals previously made and submitted to or by the union. The union team considers management’s proposals in our caucuses and responds to management at a future session. The first few bargaining sessions are always loaded with initial proposals and IBB topics.

We will report on proposals and topics as they get placed on the agenda. Economic proposals will not be exchanged until mid-April — earlier than in previous sessions. We don’t want a repeat of OHSU’s eleventh-hour introduction of shocking economic take-backs such as we experienced with management’s PERS proposal in 2012.

Today’s Progress

The two teams had decided to select a real-world problem to work on in an earlier joint training, but one that would lend itself to resolution — this was to give the teams an actual concern to work on but that was not likely to be overly contentious. The article we selected to work on was Article 5.3 – Definition of Consensus, which addresses the process used for work groups to develop consensus agreements  (such as around vacation scheduling — see Article 12.4.1).

This short article has actually resulted in problems in several work units, in that it does not clearly define who should participate in the consensus process, how voting should occur, how consensus agreements are reported to the union and OHSU or how to deal with consensus agreements that step outside the intent of the definition.

Since this was the first day that the two teams have worked an actual IBB problem, the process understandably took most of the day — the process will get faster in the future, as we work together. The teams did reach a tentative agreement on some good changes to the consensus process:

  • We will identify in the consensus definition the specific sections of the contract that may be amended by the consensus process.
  • The consensus process may be initiated by either management or a group of 10 percent of the employees in a work group/unit.
  • The process may be used within a whole work unit or for a smaller group within the work unit if that is more applicable.
  • All employees affected by a proposed consensus agreement are allowed to vote, all workers must get a reasonable opportunity to vote and 80 percent of the employees voting will determine consensus.
  • All consensus agreements must be made readily available to affected employees and all employees new to a work unit must be given copies of any consensus agreements in effect for that unit.
  • A consensus agreement may be rescinded if representatives from OHSU Human Resources and AFSCME Local 328 staff representatives agree that it violates another section of the contract or adversely impacts employees not party to the agreement.
  • A bargaining subcommittee will be formed to develop a set of guidelines for departments to use to assist them in developing agreements and reaching consensus.

The teams finished up the day in separate caucuses reviewing each other’s IBB topics, reviewing responses to proposals and discussing future agenda items. The management responses to union proposals considered by the Local 328 team included:

  • Union-member leave — (a) re: presenting at New Employee Orientation and (b) changes that would allow for intermittent union leave but increase management’s discretion in granting leave.
  • Performance evaluations — language that establishes the expectation that employees receive yearly evaluations, but that does not include the union’s proposal that employees be allowed to challenge certain critical information.
  • Sick leave — Local 328 had proposed language requiring managers to state exactly what their concerns are when requesting fitness-for-duty medical exams. OHSU responded with language that responded to some of our concerns but did not address our major concerns.
  • Evaluation periods — Management responded to our proposal that probationary employees be laid off before employees on internal-job-change trial service, least senior first.
  • Removal from trial service — OHSU proposed language restricting the right of employees to return to their previous job if removed from trial service.
  • Education and training — Management responded to the union’s proposal re: increasing members’ rights to use the Career and Workplace Enhancement Center
  • Job bidding — The employer proposed changes in job-bid language that would increase the rights of probationary and trial-service employees to job bid, but would somewhat restrict the rights of trial-service employees to apply for available internal positions.

Local 328 will be keeping you informed about our progress as these and other issues come to the table. We welcome feedback in the comments on our blog and in our Facebook group.

Hiring Freeze? Bargaining?

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While there has been no official announcement, several OHSU employees report that a hiring freeze has started in Central Services, which covers areas such as ITG, Facilities and Logistics and Central Financial Services  In addition, Local 328 has been notified that a hiring “frost” will go into effect in departments reporting to the Provost and the Chief Financial Officer, where vacancies will be more closely reviewed before a decision is made on whether to fill them.

This is the third freeze since 2009, but what makes this one different is the reason, or rather, the lack of reason.  The 2009 freeze came when we were in the middle of the worst recession in decades.  In 2013 OHSU was impacted by Congress’ budget sequestration and management expressed uncertainty over health care reform.  But this year there is no apparent economic problem, in fact OHSU’s financial outlook is good, according to Chief Financial Officer Lawrence Furhstahl’s latest report.   So why the belt-tightening, and why now?

OHSU’s operating income is down $10 million compared to last year, but that is only part of the picture.  On the whole, the hospital’s position is strong – Furnstahl estimates fiscal year 2015 earnings at approximately $95 million. He believes further earnings could be realized by controlling year-over-year growth costs, especially in supplies and services.  More good news: OHSU’s total net worth now stands at $2.4 billion, an increase of $28 million over last year.  But wait, there’s more: total cash and investments now stand at $739 million, which is a one-year increase of $14 million, according to Furnstahl.

There is a lot of optimism around OHSU these days, and for good reason – fund-raising for the Knight challenge has almost reached the $500 million goal, the waterfront expansion is booming and the hospital’s financial house is in good order.  As Local 328 begins contract bargaining it will be interesting to see whether the freeze, whatever its cause, becomes an issue when we start negotiating wage increases for OHSU employees.

Bargaining Teams Meet!

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Union and OHSU Management Bargaining Teams Meet

The union and OHSU met for the first time today in the 2015 contract-bargaining process. The purpose of today’s meeting was to train both teams in the interest-based problem-solving process that is used in interest- based bargaining.

OHSU and the union have used IBB since the late 1990s to come to agreement on our contracts. IBB is a collaborative process of coming to agreement on issues raised by the union, its members and OHSU managers about changes in the contract.

The contract, also sometimes called the labor agreement or the collective-bargaining agreement, is the document that contains all the terms and conditions of employment for our members – wages, health-care benefits, retirement, vacation, sick leave and much more – and preserves and guarantees those working conditions for the term of the agreement.

Members should be aware that those guarantees are only in effect for the term of the agreement. When the agreement comes to an end, a new contract must be negotiated. That is the process we are beginning now.

IBB will not be familiar to most people who imagine the popular image of union negotiations as consisting of two teams of people in smoke-filled rooms making demands of each other from across a table strewn with stacks of paper.

What happens in IBB is that the teams sit together and have open dialogue about issues and the interests behind each issue – why each issue is important to each team. The next step is to have an open and free brainstorming session that may develop a broad range of possible solutions. From this array of possible solutions, one or more may be selected and tweaked prior to testing for consensus. For IBB, consensus means agreement by everyone on both teams. We may have to go through several cycles of trying and modifying possible solutions before coming to an agreement.

Needless to say, this process can be complicated, and it depends on the willingness of both teams to work together. Today’s training session was designed to teach the IBB process to help the teams get to know each other. The session was facilitated by Paul Krissel, who will again be our process facilitator throughout contract bargaining. The teams participated in a number of training exercises and ended the day with a practice IBB session by beginning to bargain an actual issue – the consensus process defined in the contract. We did not finish the IBB process on this issue due to lack of time, so agreement has not been reached yet.

The first full contract bargaining session is scheduled for March 5. The bargaining teams will meet every Thursday thereafter until we reach agreement.

Please forward bargaining-related emails to your coworkers in case they aren’t getting them for some reason. The more our members know about our bargaining process, the more effective we can be as a union!

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