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OHSU Physicians In Training Have A Union Contract

The contract aligns OHSU with other academic medical institutions on the West Coast and marks the third AFSCME bargaining unit at the university.
Photo of hospital building.
OHSU Hospital on Marquam Hill. | LYNNE TERRY/THE LUND REPORT
March 18, 2021

Physicians in training have agreed on the terms of their first union contract with Oregon Health & Science University.

The deal, which began a year and a half ago when OHSU’s interns, residents and fellows voted to unionize under the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees Council 75, aligns OHSU with other medical academic centers on the West Coast. Their peers at the University of California, San Francisco and the University of Washington in Seattle have long been unionized. The contract includes annual salary increases of 2.5%; stipends for housing, relocation, equipment; and a guaranteed four weeks vacation a year. 

Corey Nicholson, organizing and education director at AFSCME Council 75, said the contract required a lot of effort in a very busy year, marking a major accomplishment. 

“They’re the frontline workers during COVID,” Nicholson said. “They have their own families and they’ve been bargaining a contract with OHSU to have a seat at the table. That’s a lot to take on with what they’re facing every day.”

OHSU said in a statement it welcomed the agreement: "OHSU wants to thank all (union) represented members for their continued dedication throughout negotiations, especially during a year like no other. We are excited for what the future holds for all of us as we begin a strong partnership."

It took nearly a year to reach the agreement. It includes a $2,000 annual housing stipend that will increase 5% every year; an annual $1,000 relocation stipend for new staff and those who have to relocate as part of their job; fully paid medical license fees and exam costs, which run about $1,000 a year; and a $500 equipment payment. 

Nicholson said the housing and relocation stipends were important to nail down to ensure that OHSU is on par with other academic medical centers. 

“They wanted to be competitive with their West Coast peers to attract the best candidates,” Nicholson said. “For that, they needed to have the housing stipend; they needed to have the relocation stipend. Those things really matter when candidates are picking where they’re going to do their internship and residency.”

The represented employees' weighted average salary is $64,000 a year, but that varies widely depending on specialty. They’re have heavy student debt, perhaps around $200,000.

When students graduate from medical school, they obtain a medical doctor degree, but that’s just one phase of their education. They then train on the job as residents, typically from three to seven years depending on the specialty. First year trainees are known as interns. Physicians interested in a highly specialized field, such as reconstructive surgery, undergo fellowships. OHSU has 850 interns, residents and fellows, who are collectively known as house officers. Residents account for the largest share -- 61%. Fellows account for 24% and the rest are interns. 

The training they undergo is demanding, with long days and nights. The Accreditation Council for Graduate Medical Education has adopted an 80-hour workweek and interns cannot work more than 28 hours in one shift.

The contract goes into effect March 29 and will run for three years. 

“The first contract is arguably the most important, as it sets the tone for all future negotiations,” said Stacy Chamberlain, executive director of Oregon AFSCME. 

The contract is the third for AFSCME at OHSU. Last year, Ph.D. students in OHSU’s nursing, medical and public health schools ratified their contract, which involved tough negotiations. It gives the students guaranteed raises, health care coverage for dependents and lower out-of-pocket costs, time off and W2s for tax purposes. The bargaining unit, under Local 328, is small. There are about 300 Ph.D. students at OHSU. Local 328 also represents about 7,000 other employees at OHSU, including medical assistants, social workers, pharmacy technicians, certified nursing assistants and medical coding specialists.

You can reach Lynne Terry at [email protected] or on Twitter @LynnePDX.