OHSU grad workers win first contract

Members of Graduate Researchers United in Oregon AFSCME celebrated the ratification of their first-ever union contract.

By Don McIntosh

A year and a half after they announced they were joining AFSCME, graduate student researchers at Oregon Health and Science University (OHSU) have a first union contract. OHSU administrators at first challenged research assistants’ right to unionize, saying they’re students, not workers. They eventually dropped that case, but dragged their feet in negotiations. Most progress came in the final weeks of bargaining, after graduate researchers threatened to refuse to take part in OHSU’s annual efforts to recruit new graduate students.

“It took them a long time to get used to the idea that they were going to have a union on the university side of OHSU,” said Oregon AFSCME representative Dennis Ziemer.

Ratified in a unanimous vote as of March 11, the new agreement runs through June 30, 2023. It covers about 300 graduate students in the schools of medicine, public health, and nursing who are paid an annual stipend of about $30,000 to perform research and other tasks. The new contract for the first time makes them official “W-2” employees, something that was important to members. It also provides for an immediate $80 a month increase plus three annual raises of 3% each July 1. It caps the hours they’re expected to work at 40 a week. And it adds health insurance coverage for dependents, and lowers the plan’s out-of-pocket maximums to $3,000 (from $6,000). It also ends a prohibition on nursing program Ph.D. candidates working outside the school; they may now work up to 20 hours/week outside the program.

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