Reversing course, OHSU agrees to recognize grad student union

By Don McIntosh

Back in September, Oregon Health and Science University (OHSU) argued that its 250 full-time graduate student researchers shouldn’t be allowed to unionize — because they’re not really public employees under the law. In December, university executives changed their mind, and OHSU dropped its legal objection rather than go to a January hearing before the Oregon Employment Relations Board (ERB).

“It is clear that our Ph.D. students desire a union to formalize a dialogue about their needs,” said OHSU Provost Elena Andresen in a Dec. 28 joint statement.

“We are pleased that OHSU decided to withdraw their objections,” responded Oregon AFSCME Executive Director  Stacy Chamberlain. “OHSU graduate students are part of a growing movement of professional workers forming unions, and they are the last group of graduate students in Oregon to organize.”

Union supporter Rich Posert, a graduate researcher in cryo-electron microscopy, called it a big win.

“We’re all really excited to move forward and have good-faith bargaining,” Posert said.

Posert thinks community support made a difference. The reversal came just days before a planned “social media day of action” by the union. It also didn’t hurt that the legal decision OHSU was trying to interpret as anti-union was written by former ERB member Jason Weyand, who now works as Oregon AFSCME’s attorney.

Students will now select members of a bargaining committee and vote on what their priorities will be. The two sides agreed to begin bargaining by March 15.

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