OHSU President Apologizes, HR Head Resigns As Union Rallies
The president of Oregon Health & Science University has issued a public apology and the head of human resources has stepped down amid a Twitter campaign against a local union that’s been bargaining for a new contract with the institution since February.
“I am very sorry,” President Dr. Danny Jacobs said in a statement late Wednesday to the union, the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees or AFSCME. “OHSU remains committed to bargaining in good faith with integrity and transparency in the bargaining process.”
Jacobs said the employee, Dan Forbes, stepped down as vice president of human resources and will work until Nov. 1 to ensure a smooth transition.
“He will not participate in any work related to labor contract negotiations,” Jacobs said. “He has expressed his remorse for his role in this activity.”
Forbes and another member of the bargaining team were involved in a social media campaign against the union following its declaration of an impasse in negotiations in July, the union said.
“This is literally the highest level of human relations at OHSU actively direct dealing with union members during negotiations,” said Matt Hilton, president of AFSCME Local 328 and an OHSU call center employee. “What he’s doing, it’s an unfair labor practice. We already have our attorney on it.”
OHSU and the union are currently in a state-mandated 30-day cooling-off period following the declaration by the union last month of an impasse in their negotiations. Union members are gathering at OHSU’s hillside campus in Southwest Portland on Thursday for an "informational picket" against the university’s latest contract proposals.
“We want to make sure that management and the public know of our concerns around the proposals which we feel are dangerous to our patient safety and disrespectful to our members,” said Ross Grami, an OHSU AFSCME union representative.
Union officials said the social media campaign is just the latest sign of disrespect towards its members. The campaign stemmed from two fake Twitter accounts -- “AanusMcFadden” and “RoyVragina” -- that tried to undermine the union by commenting about low turnout at union meetings, accusing the union of charging inflated dues and misrepresenting its positions on wages in the bargaining, the union said.
The trolls appeared to be trying to influence OHSU employees to drop their union membership, the union said. A little bit of sleuthing traced the trolls to Patrick Frengle, a financial analyst at OHSU involved in the union negotiations, Hilton said.
While union officials were monitoring Frengle’s activity, they noticed that another suspicious Twitter account -- PeterPumpkinEater -- engaged with the trolls and weighed in against the union.
The union called Forbes about the two troll accounts on Monday. During that conversation, the “Peter” account was deleted, the union said. The following day, the union contacted another member of the administration about the “Peter” account, leading to the announcement of Forbes’ resignation.
“Dan was clearly aware of Patrick’s behavior,” Hilton said. “He didn’t just condone it, he participated alongside him.”
Forbes wasn’t the lead OHSU negotiator, but he was responsible for the administration of the agreements with the union and worked closely with the bargaining team, OHSU said.
Frengle appears to still have his job -- OHSU declined to comment when asked whether he’d be leaving, too -- but he was kicked off the bargaining unit, OHSU said in a statement.
“While we cannot discuss confidential personnel matters, we can confirm that this individual has been removed from our bargaining team, effective immediately, and is prohibited from participating in any future negotiations,” the statement said.
The three accounts have been deleted from Twitter, though other people have PeterPumpkinEater monikers.
The two sides are due to resume negotiations on Tuesday but the trolling activity has soured their relations. Already, Hilton said, union members had felt slighted by OHSU during the negotiations.
“The last few days have confirmed our bargaining team’s worst suspicions,” Hilton said. “We have serious concerns about what a path forward looks like with the recent developments.”
He said the union would fire an employee engaged in trolling behavior.
The union’s previous contract with OHSU ended in June. Both sides submitted their final offers on July 29.
In a statement, OHSU said that its offer includes:
- No increase to the cost-share for health insurance
- Wage increases averaging 2.62% or 2.82% each year, in addition to anniversary step increases, which range between 1.5% and 4% each year
- More money to support those earning $22 an hour or less
- A paid-time-off program that would be optional for current AFSCME-represented employees to select
- A one-time payment that would be payable more quickly if a contract is approved by AFSCME members
"OHSU greatly values the vital contributions for our AFSCME-represented employees and is committed to working with AFSCME Local 328 to reach an agreement that provides competitive, comprehensive benefits in recognition of their hard work," OHSU said in a statement.
Hilton said AFSCME won’t accept an agreement that includes paid time off for new employees. Right now union members have a sick bank and a vacation bank that rolls over each year. Employees start by accruing 12 days a year for each, Hilton said.
“The existing system is working fine,” Hilton said. “OHSU is making record profits.”
OHSU predicts that operating revenues will hit a record $3.45 billion in the next fiscal year, with a record $156 million of that to be used for expansion projects.
Hilton said the union’s position might be different if OHSU were hurting financially. The union also won’t accept living wage increases that vary depending on the job classification.
“We won’t accept an across-the-board wage increase that pays some more than others,” Hilton said.
If the two sides can’t reach an agreement next Tuesday, the union will schedule a strike authorization vote from Aug. 19 to Aug. 29. The two sides have penciled in another session -- just in case -- on Aug. 30. If there’s still no agreement, the union will strike, Hilton said. That move could cause a major disruption in services at one of the Portland area’s leading medical institutions.
“All we want is a fair contract,” Hilton said. “We don’t want to strike.”
You can reach Lynne Terry at [email protected].
Aug 8 2019