Three-year pact raises pay for 5,300 AFSCME members at OHSU

Yes, this AFSCME union bulletin board really is where it looks like it is. Pictured is union steward Philip Curtis reflecting on a strike poll. Photo courtesy of fellow bargaining team member Jennifer Barker.

Oregon Health and Science University (OHSU) support workers ratified a new contract by an 85 percent margin in votes counted Sept. 5. The three-year agreement runs through June 30, 2015, and covers 5,300 workers in about 350 classifications, from housekeepers to medical technologists to pharmacists. They are members of American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees (AFSCME) Local 328, the largest local in Oregon AFSCME Council 75.

The new contract provides for four across-the-board pay raises that total 7.5 percent over the three years, plus a 1 percent one-time bonus in July 2014 for workers who remain at OHSU from the contract ratification until then.

But for workers who participate in Oregon’s Public Employees Pension System (PERS), those increases will be partly erased: Starting January 2014, they’ll pay 6 percent of their wages toward PERS. OHSU established a 401(k)-style defined contribution pension known as University Pension Program (UPP) in 1995, when it separated from the Oregon System of Higher Education and became an autonomous public corporation. Since then, OHSU employees choose between UPP and PERS, which is a traditional defined benefit pension. Today, says staff representative Diane Lovell, about half of Local 328 members are in PERS and half in UPP.

The first six months of the 6 percent PERS contribution will be subsidized by what OHSU calls a “differential” — a payment equal to 5 percent of wages for vested participants and 6 percent for those not yet vested. In July 2014 that payment drops to 3 percent for vested and 4 percent for non-vested.

After all that back and forth, wages for UPP participants will have increased the full 7.5 percent by the contract’s end, compared to 4.5 percent for vested PERS participants. Union negotiators proposed that wages simply be raised 6 percent to compensate for the PERS deductions, but Lovell said OHSU insisted on the “differential” terminology, maybe because it seems more temporary; she expects OHSU will propose reducing or eliminating the subsidy in future negotiations.

Meanwhile, health coverage mostly stays the same in the new contract. OHSU pays the whole premium for employee-only health coverage, and 88 percent of the premium for family coverage. OHSU dropped a proposal to reduce its contribution to 83 percent of family coverage. OHSU also proposed that workers pay any annual increase in health insurance premiums after the first 5 percent, but in the end agreed to pay premium increases of up to 10 percent. The increases in recent years have hovered around 2 percent, Lovell said.

OHSU is itself a hospital as well as an educational and research facility, and workers can choose to get health care at work through an OHSU Preferred Provider Organization that has a richer benefit structure than the other options.

The union agreed to reduce differential pay for working nights and weekends for about 100 workers in several classifications.

OHSU backed off of a proposal to move about 400 hourly employees to salaried status, including pharmacists and medical technologists who are working lots of overtime. The employees would have been given a 5 percent raise over their current average earnings, but not be paid extra for working longer hours.

Lovell said the union also won improvements on other priorities members identified, including better contract language on training, working out of classification, grievance procedures, and attendance policy.

The negotiations, including mediation, took five months.

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