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Nurses union signals more scrutiny of OHSU after executive bonuses dispute

The university won’t give bonuses to highly paid vice presidents, but the union said it will continue to push back on spending decisions
Nurses represented by the Oregon Nurses Association through the Association of University Registered Nurses and their supporters crowded into Elizabeth Caruthers Park on Sept. 18, 2023. | JAKE THOMAS/THE LUND REPORT
October 12, 2023

After a recent dustup over bonuses for Oregon Health & Science University’s highly paid executives, the state’s largest nurses union has signaled it will keep a closer eye on the university’s spending as it moves forward with its acquisition of Legacy Health. 

OHSU President Dr. Danny Jacobs earlier this week decided not to include eight executive vice presidents in $12.5 million worth of one-time bonuses to 2,000 administrators. The Oregon Nurses Association and AFSCME 328 applauded Jacobs’ decision after blasting his earlier plan— which included bonuses to highly compensated top executives — as an insult to workers and poor use of university funds.

The flap over the bonuses, first reported by Willamette Week, played out against a backdrop of emboldened action by labor unions, particularly those representing health care workers. It comes on the heels of tough negotiations between OHSU management and the hospital’s 3,200 nurses over a new contract. 

Myrna Jensen, nurses union spokesperson, told The Lund Report that nurses will be paying particular attention to making sure OHSU follows through on the $10 million it agreed to spend on addressing workplace safety that’s part of the contract. She also said the union will be pressing OHSU to hire more staff for a five-year planned expansion of the hospital that will add 152 licensed beds. 

The nurses union has criticized OHSU’s proposed $1 billion deal to acquire Legacy Health, saying it should instead use that money to improve employee pay. 

“OHSU is really going to be under the microscope during these activities with Legacy.”

“OHSU is really going to be under the microscope during these activities with Legacy,” Jensen said. 

The union has had an acrimonious relationship with Legacy, particularly after a recent deadly shooting at Legacy Good Samaritan Hospital in Portland and the health system’s unsuccessful attempt to close a maternity unit in Gresham. 

Following Jacobs’ initial decision to reward the group of managers, the nurses union and AFSCME organized a petition against the bonuses, saying the move was “not merely tone deaf in the face of well-documented employee morale issues, it is deeply unethical.”

“Many workers at OHSU are struggling,” reads the petition. “Hundreds rely on food banks to survive. Resident physicians, the doctors who provide front-line care, work 16 straight hours or more, and then go drive for Uber to support their families.”

Members of the unions had received one-time payments  in connection with their contract ratifications, such as a $3,000 AFSCME ratification bonus. In effect, Jacobs’ effort provided bonuses to managers who are not members of the unions.

OHSU spokesperson Sara Hottman told The Lund Report in an email the $12.5 million in bonuses is intended to reward administrators after difficult years during the pandemic. Jacobs said that the bonuses for the executive vice presidents, the highest-paid of the administrators, were contingent on the availability of funds after all employees were accounted for, she said. 

However, following an eligibility review there wasn’t money left over for bonuses for executive vice presidents, she said 

“Staff payments and associated payroll expenses exhausted the funds, and there is not currently a plan to award bonuses to EVPs via another method,” said Hottman. 

OHSU put its yearly bonus program for the top executives on hold during the pandemic, and it still has not resumed.

Clarification: An earlier version of this article noted an OHSU offer of a one-time payment framed as a bonus that did not end up in the contract. In the end, the deal provided members with retroactive pay.

You can reach Jake Thomas at [email protected] or via Twitter @jakethomas2009.