Skip to main content

Oregon Health & Science University violated labor law, agency finds

After nurse supervisor complained over being told to staff with a ‘fiscal lens,’ she faced investigation over her ‘tone.’
Photo of hospital building.
OHSU Hospital on Marquam Hill. | LYNNE TERRY/THE LUND REPORT
December 21, 2023

A state agency has found Oregon Health & Science University engaged in an unfair labor practice, issuing a final order in a case in which a nurse supervisor was told to staff shifts with a "fiscal lens" — then was investigated for the tone" of her protests.

The Oregon Employment Relations Board on Dec. 15 sided with Mackenzie Chown, a labor and delivery charge nurse who had filed a complaint through the Oregon Nurses Association with the board more than a year ago. 

In September 2022, Chown expressed concerns regarding staff safety during a meeting of the hospital’s nursing practice committee with union and hospital representatives.

Her subsequent complaint supplied emails showing what the union characterized as a threatening response from her managers. Chown served as a union steward in her unit and had been scheduled to testify in a grievance arbitration.

"We conclude that OHSU violated (state law) by summoning (Chown) to a meeting and effectively threatening her with discipline because of her protected activity." reads the employment board's final order.

Hospital officials declined to comment directly on Chown's complaint, but issued a statement.

"OHSU supports the rights of employees to engage in protected union activities and respects the Employee Relations Board’s decision,” the statement said. “At OHSU, the safety and well-being of our patients, employees and learners is paramount. We value our longstanding relationship with the Oregon Nurses Association and look forward to working with them to maintain a safe and respectful work and learning environment for all."

The union's complaint argued Molly Blaser, the director of women’s and neonatal services at Doernbecher Children’s Hospital, tried to intimidate Chown over staffing.

In an email later that day, Chown told Blaser she was "very uncomfortable with the conversation we had this morning. It felt like you were trying to bully and threaten me with the statement 'we'll be talking about this later' in regards to having extra nurses without assignment."

Blaser responded that Chown overstaffed a shift by assigning nine nurses to four patients. The extra nurses were necessary, Chown responded, because all four patients had complicated deliveries and needed urgent attention.

In addition, Chown told Blaser two extra nurses were necessary to meet Association of Women's Health, Obstetric and Neonatal Nurses standards by having meal and break nurses.

"As charge nurses, we should be supported for doing what is best and safe for our patients, and it is unacceptable to have to constantly advocate and justify having extra nurses on the unit that don't have assignments, especially being a high-risk, level-one trauma OB hospital,” Chown wrote. "I did not feel supported."

Blaser responded, "From my perspective, you were significantly overstaffed and should not have needed that many nurses at that time. I believe that we are not on the same page on how many nurses we should staff with only 4 [patients]. We are needing to staff safely AND with a fiscal lens as well."

Chown asserted that Blaser’s focus on staffing with a "fiscal lens" was "in direct violation of the OHA nurse staffing law" and noted that OHSU’s staffing plan was approved by the staffing committee "months ago."

Her managers were not receptive to the argument.

OHSU manager Jane Russell emailed Chown Sept. 29, requesting a meeting with Chown to discuss "professionalism and code of conduct." The meeting focused on Chown’s "tone/style of communication" in her exchanges with Blaser Sept. 28 and on Chown’s “Code of Conduct issues," according to the union complaint.

According to a transcript of the meeting, Russell cited and read aloud to Chown Article 4 of Collective Bargaining Agreement regarding management rights: "These rights of management shall include, but not be limited to ... suspend, discharge or take other proper disciplinary action against employees ... relieve employees from duty.”

 Cooper responded that citing the Code of Conduct to Chown was an act of intimidation that interfered with Chown’s scheduled testimony March 6.

"When she’s speaking about staffing, she’s advocating for safe staffing," Cooper said of Chown’s communication with Blaser. "With arbitration date of March ... for you to call her to a disciplinary meeting with that not settled, that’s intimidation, could have a chilling effect. We will consider filing unfair labor.”

Following the meeting, the union pursued its unfair-labor-practices complaint with the state board.

"She was targeted for both as a union steward and a nurse staffing committee member for her vital advocacy for safe staffing to protect the safety of labor and delivery patients at OHSU," Cooper told The Lund Report in an email in October.


Submitted by Kimberly Sordyl on Thu, 12/28/2023 - 12:16 Permalink

Absolutely nothing has changed since the Covington Report.  The same bad actors are in charge.  The culture of fear and intimidation remains strong.  Not surprised at all to see John Hunter and Todd Pfahler are part of this retaliation.