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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