How do we form a union?

Our first step is just to talk to as many of our colleagues as we can to find out what is most important to them and whether they support the idea. Once we're confident there's sufficient interest, we'll ask people to sign union authorization cards. If a majority of research staff sign cards, we have a union, and OHSU has to bargain a contract with us! Keep in mind, the cards are confidential--no one in OHSU management will ever be told who did or didn't sign, just how many people chose to.

What will be in the contract?

It will be up to us to decide what to prioritize in contract negotiations. There are already unionized workers at OHSU, and we can learn from what’s worked well for them, but we won't automatically inherit their contract. Once our union is certified, we'll elect a team of our coworkers to negotiate with the OHSU, with the help of experienced AFSCME staff. The bargaining team will survey all research workers before developing initial proposals, and we'll all get to vote on any contract before it is approved.

Could we lose things we have now? Like flexible scheduling?

Management will sometimes try to scare people with ideas like this, but probably not. Remember, we'll be the ones negotiating our contract and voting on it, so why would we ever agree to a contract that takes away things we like? Would you vote for that? Legally, the status quo is the starting point for bargaining, and a contract gives us a chance to codify things we like currently, so management can't change them unilaterally as they could easily do now without a union. There are very few, if any, examples of union contracts for academic workers that require people to punch in and out on specific schedules--that just wouldn't make sense for the work we do.

What kind of pushback are we expecting? Will my PI be upset?

The sense we’ve gotten from a lot of PIs is that they’d like to offer us better working conditions, but their hands are tied by OHSU administration. So, we expect many PIs to be supportive, but your PI will never know whether you support the union unless you tell them.

Oregon law forbids public employers like OHSU from engaging in most of the more strenuous anti-union campaign tactics that are used to intimidate workers in the private sector. We don’t expect people to be forced to attend anti-union presentations or to be disciplined for supporting the campaign. Still, not everyone in management will be happy about a campaign that will require them to share decision-making power with us. Keep an eye out for misinformation, which might come in the form of expressions of concern about changes research staff might see if we form a union (i.e. “we just don’t know whether we’ll still be allowed to offer the same flexible schedules anymore”). Subtle bribes or threats are common in public sector organizing campaigns. If you hear about this kind of activity, or experience any kind of retaliatory actions, let us know.  AFSCME has attorneys on staff to protect us from illegal anti-union tactics.

Our work is grant funded. Can a union still negotiate for better wages and job security?

Yes! Lots of grant-funded workers have unions. The bottom line is, OHSU is our employer, not our grantors. If we negotiate to codify higher rates of pay or better benefits for researchers, the cost of those improvements will have to be covered by OHSU and/or incorporated into future grant applications by PIs just as any change in compensation would be without a union.

Better wages and working conditions will likely result in lower turnover in some positions, which is ultimately better for PIs, OHSU administration, and grantors, all of whom have an interest in seeing our work get done and get done well. If a grant goes away entirely and your PI is no longer able to employ you at all, that’s not something a union can probably prevent, but we can negotiate for policies like return and transfer rights to get laid-off members rehired if another position opens at OHSU that they are qualified for.

What about union dues?

Every union has dues to cover the cost of operations, and dues with AFSCME, the union we've partnered with, are 1.27%. But, no one will pay any dues until we have voted to accept our first contract. Most people will not vote for a contract that doesn't increase wages enough to cover dues. More members mean more power and bigger improvements, but no one can be compelled to join our union or pay dues if they don't think it's worth it.

How can I get involved?

We're glad you asked! The more people who help with this process, the sooner we can get our union certified and negotiate a contract. Right now, we're looking for folks who can help with the efforts to reach out to coworkers, hear their stories and learn about their issues, and discuss with them how a union might help improve things for us at OHSU. At the point we're ready to collect signatures, we'll need a lot of help getting all those cards signed! If you'd like to help out, or just learn more, you can reach out to us at the email address below.

[email protected]