OHSU, Union Agree On Contract As Union Pursues Complaint

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Months-long negotiations between Oregon Health & Science University and a union that represents nearly half of its workforce have ended with a tentative agreement.

An official at the local American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees union characterized the agreement in a blog post as “a fair contract with a lot of beneficial new language.” It spans three years and includes annual wage raises of 3.25 percent and 3 percent the following two years -- more than the university’s previous offer.

The university said in a statement that it was pleased to have reached an agreement. "Our AFSCME-represented employees are the backbone of OHSU, and this agreement honors their dedication and hard work, every day, in support of our patient care, education and research missions," it said in a statement.

The tentative deal came five months after the start of negotiations and five days after the union revealed it had been targeted online by an OHSU financial analyst and bargaining team member, Patrick Frengle. Trolling under the monikers “AanusMcFadden” and “RoyVragina,” Frengle had the support of the head of human relations, Dan Forbes, the union said. Last Thursday, OHSU said Frengle was removed from the bargaining team and that Forbes had stepped down but would stay until Nov. 1 to ensure a smooth transition. The same day, the union filed an unfair labor practice complaint against OHSU with the Oregon Employment Relations Board. Ross Grami, spokesman for AFSCME Local 328, told The Lund Report on Wednesday that the complaint will go forward.

Forbes’ resignation is the latest shakeup at OHSU since President Dr. Danny Jacobs took the helm in August 2018.

That same month the university announced it was suspending its 31-year-old heart transplant program amid the resignations of its heart failure cardiologists. Then in May, the head of the university’s Emergency Medicine Department, Dr. John Ma, stepped down -- and is now gone -- following an internal investigation of harassment allegations. Sources told The Lund Report that his leadership prompted about 20 emergency room physicians and other professionals to leave OHSU. There has also been an exodus of anesthesiologists and researchers following the demotion of Dr. Jeffrey Kirsch as head of that department last July. Kirsch, credited with turning the department into a standout nationwide, is now gone, too.

The latest dust-up has affected a much broader swath of employees. AFSCME Local 328 represents about 6,500 workers at OHSU, spanning everyone from nursing assistants to social workers to food service employees and custodians. In recent days, dozens of them have commented on an internal blog post by Jacobs. Though clearly written in response to the social media campaign, his message to employees did not address it. Rather, Jacobs said: “It is ultimately my responsibility when we fall short. As your president, I will not allow us to hide in the shadows, behind excuses or for lack of courage. I am redoubling my efforts and asking everyone to stand with me in the light, to respect each other and work to build trust, transparency and accountability in everything we say and everything we do.”

A shop steward commented on the post by saying that OHSU could improve by treating everyone the same. “It is very concerning that a VP of HR could so flagrantly violate the Code of Conduct, yet remain on the job for 3 months,” she wrote. Others agreed and some - with everyone writing under their own names -- were more pointed. “This is so dismissive to employees who work so diligently on the ground to make OHSU what it is,” said one. “Words are great, but without action, words are meaningless.”

In the end, OHSU pretty much gave the union what it wanted. It withdrew a plan to switch new employees to an aggregated paid-time-off system. They will accrue vacation and sick time like current employees. OHSU also withdrew a plan for tiered pay increases and agreed to retain the same health care benefits. Union members will enjoy a one-time $1,000 bonus and $0.50 an hour more for working weekends. And like previous contracts, the proposal will allow employees the right to cash out up to 250 hours of vacation pay upon termination.

The union canceled a protest planned for Wednesday -- which would have been its third such event. Instead, it will hold a meeting to discuss the deal and hold a vote in early September. OHSU said if the union endorses the deal, it will become effective after the next pay period. 

You can reach Lynne Terry at [email protected].

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