We have heard from several members who received the announcement of the changes in the Staff Fee privilege from OHSU.
The most frequently asked question is “Why did OHSU say that AFSCME members agreed to this, when clearly no members voted on it or otherwise approved it?”
The fact is that we are concerned that OSHU has characterized the Union’s involvement as constituting membership approval.
The Staff Fee privilege is not a negotiated item. It covers all OHSU employees and not just bargaining unit members. We don’t deal with it at the bargaining table nor do we ratify agreements on the Staff Fee privilege.
In the past OHSU simply announced changes in the staff fee privilege program. On a recent occasion such an announcement lead to concern among members which ultimately created a level of activism which contributed to OHSU reversing some, but not all, changes in the program.
During the current budget cycle OHSU became concerned about the ballooning costs of the program. Costs were increasing for several reasons. First, the program was structured so that employees paid a set amount and OHSU picked up the difference. Hence OHSU was absorbing the tuition increases. Second, Portland State, in particular, had started billing OHSU for student fees as well as tuition. Third, more employees were participating.
OHSU did come to the union with these concerns and outlined several options for change. They listened to our input and we believe accepted a lot of it. However, we did not bargain the overall size and cost of the program. That’s set by the employer. Also OHSU was clear that they not only needed to contain costs, they needed to get control of the increases in the employer’s expenses due to increases in tuition and getting billed for fees.
They opted to do this by setting their contribution at a fixed amount per credit. So, where students used to pay a fixed amount and OHSU paid the difference, the employer reversed that, the employer paid a fixed amount and the student pays the difference.
We knew this would negatively impact some of our members. We have been lobbying for years to get community colleges covered by the Staff Fee privilege.
As part of the changes this time, and in response to our concerns, OHSU included Portland Community College for the first time as qualifying for participation in the program. Right now PCC charges $60 per credit.
That means our members can go to PCC for ten bucks a credit. This is a very nice gain for the membership as a whole. Unfortunately the people this helps are largely a different group than the people who were negatively impacted.
Of all the employee groups at OHSU, AFSCME members have the highest rate of participation at community colleges. This change will disproportionately help our members compared to other bargaining unit or unrepresented employees.
Given that this was not a negotiation which the Union had the right to ratify, we believe that we did the most good for the most people that was possible under the circumstances.
The second most frequently asked question is: “Why didn’t you tell us sooner?’
It wasn’t a decision made or bargained by the Union. It was a policy decision made by the employer with the Union’s input. It was subject to all the internal reviews and approvals that OHSU requires. We do not control this process, nor do we control what the final product looks like when it comes out the other end of the tunnel. It was not the Union’s decision to either make or announce.