The pressure to make progress in bargaining is beginning to be felt by both teams. The clock is winding toward summer and a long list of IBB issues as well as financial proposals still need to be dealt with and responded to.
Today the teams tackled the issue of comp-time accruals, an issue that management brought forward. The union brought forward issues around working off the clock, taking lunch and breaks and access to break rooms. Originally the union had expressed these as separate issues, but, through caucus discussions and in the joint session, it became apparent that it made sense to bargain on them together.
We worked on the comp-time issue first. Following the current contract, under most circumstances an employee may request that overtime worked be converted to comp time, but the supervisor must agree; the exception is when an employee works mandatory overtime — then it is the employee’s option whether to take the compensation in cash or as comp time.
The other circumstance when an employee may accrue comp time is related to on-call employees. On-call employees are paid one hour’s worth of pay for every six hours they spend on call; currently, employees may elect to have that time recorded as comp time.
During initial discussion, OHSU identified comp-time accruals as a concern; some of the examples raised were that some departments have to pay overtime to cover employees who take comp time off and that departments with many high-seniority employees already have a hard time granting enough vacation without adding comp time to the mix. Another concern was that employees who earn comp time take it before they take vacation time, so they in effect have a rotating bank of comp time while building up large vacation balances. A final concern expressed by management was that different areas of OHSU have different staffing problems and constraints, so a one-size-fits-all approach to allowing employees to elect whether or not to record comp time is problematic. The union expressed concern that most of these problems were the result of understaffing and noted that management has available all the tools they need to reduce the use of overtime and the accrual of comp time. Further, the union team felt that the ability for employees to choose whether or not to take pay or comp time was important to quality of work life.
The teams ultimately reached a tentative agreement. Most of the current contract language having to do with comp time will remain unchanged; however two changes were made that have to do with overtime earned in relation to on-call status:
- First, if on-call is scheduled 84 days or more (three 28-day scheduling periods) in advance, an employee may request that their on-call pay be converted to comp time, but management must approve. If the on-call time is scheduled with less than 84 days’ notice, the choice whether to record the on-call time as comp time is solely the employee’s choice. The result here is that management has an incentive for scheduling on-call well in advance, thus minimizing inconvenience to employees; if management fails to do so, then the employees still get the choice.
- Second (this is a gain for employees), when an employee is called in to work from on-call status, the employee can designate the premium portion of his or her call-in pay to be recorded as comp time, something employees were previously unable to do.
The second discussion today focused on lunch and breaks, break-room access and working off the clock. As you can imagine, these issues generated a lot of stories about employees who do not get breaks and lunches, employees who work through breaks and lunches and employees who are told to not record a “missed lunch” or “missed break” even though they have not had either. We were told by the union bargaining-team members about inadequate or inaccessible break rooms, performance standards that can only be met by working off the clock and employees who clock out and then complete essential tasks because they don’t want to be disciplined for unauthorized overtime. We heard about employees who feel they have to answer email on weekends or while on vacation just to keep up and about supervisors who have unrealistic productivity expectations because standards are being set by employees doing unpaid work.
Both teams expressed interests around these stories — legal compliance, the physical and emotional safety of employees, providing good patient care, highly engaged employees, effective scheduling and good morale, for example. The list of interests was long and, for the most part, overlapping. While it may turn out that the teams will have differences over how prevalent these problems are and over how to solve them, it seems that both the union team and the OHSU team recognize that to the extent these conditions exist, they need to be resolved. The teams began brainstorming potential solutions and continued that process until running out of time in today’s session.
We will continue brainstorming next week and hope to arrive at a creative and successful solution. Upcoming issues to be worked on are the filling of vacancies, the impact of making employees work outside of their regular work units and the standards and process for increasing established FTEs. As always, your thoughts and comments are appreciated.