Skip to main content

AFSCME president joins OHSU workers in contract fight, celebrates organizing win

Photo: Oregon AFSCME
AFSCME president joins OHSU workers in contract fight, celebrates organizing win
By AFSCME Staff ·
AFSCME president joins OHSU workers in contract fight, celebrates organizing win
Photo: Oregon AFSCME

PORTLAND, Ore. – Workers at Oregon Health & Science University (OHSU) who are fighting for a fair contract and a seat at the table got high-profile help last week.

AFSCME President Lee Saunders took part in a rally organized by OHSU’s postdoctoral workers who are negotiating their first contract but facing resistance from university administrators.

The rally came during contract negotiations between OHSU administrators and postdocs who are seeking fair pay to improve hiring and retention. Despite their pivotal role in advancing OHSU’s research mission, these scholars face stagnant wages and sub-par benefits.

Rally participants say OHSU has failed to make any substantive progress on key issues, offering zero improvements in wages, benefits or diversity, equity and inclusion (DEI). Instead, the university came to the negotiating table with just status quo economic proposals.

Saunders said the 11,000 AFSCME members who work for OHSU and AFSCME’s 1.4 million members nationwide stand with the postdocs as they prepare to strike if management continues to resist.

“You’re standing up for what you believe in, you’re standing up because you have a seat at the table. They have a responsibility to negotiate a fair contract with you. And if they don’t, we will raise all kinds of hell,” Saunders said.

At another event, Saunders joined OHSU biomedical researchers to celebrate their success in forming a union through Oregon AFSCME (Council 75). Nearly 2,000 of them had their union certified by the Oregon Employment Relations Board (ERB) late last month.


Photo: Oregon AFSCME

Saunders joined the researchers to celebrate their organizing victory. Worried about OHSU’s long-term plans for supporting research, they spent more than a year working to form a union to boost their job security and improve their pay.

OHSU’s research staff is on the cutting edge of life-saving work that focuses on cancer, ALS and seizure disorders, coronaviruses and mental health disorders, and other conditions. Eligible workers who signed union cards range from scientists to clerical staff and software and analytical tool makers.

“I’ve worked in the same lab at OHSU for 23 years but something changed a few years ago and we felt powerless,” said Lynne Swarbrick, a senior research associate in pediatrics.

“I was reclassified without a raise and without any sort of input from my PI (principal investigator) or department. Now that we have a union, HR can’t make arbitrary decisions about us, they have to bargain with a new but very powerful union.”

Saunders marveled at the work the researchers do and underscored the power they have through their union.

“With your new union, you can demand greater accountability and transparency from the university. You can demand answers about what they’re doing with grant money that is supposed to be for research,” Saunders said.

Now that the ERB has certified the union, members of OHSU Research Workers United will start the bargaining process with OHSU management.

Related Posts