Almost everyone would agree that employees deserve a safe workplace, but there are always questions about how to define “safety” and problems in how to achieve it.
Local 328 has been surveying our members since 2000. Early on, we found that one of our members’ top priorities has always been workplace safety. We have to admit — that puzzled us. There are always accidents, exposures and ergonomic issues that arise in any workplace; however, these problems were not common and were mostly addressed effectively by OHSU.
It wasn’t until our union took a deeper look in a later survey that we learned that what members were talking about was emotional safety. We tried to respond to that with solutions addressing workplace conflict and hostile work environments — programs like BridgeBuilders and the Career and Workplace Enhancement Center (which has conflict resolution programs/training as one of its focus areas).
It has become clear to us, though, that while our previous efforts were well-intentioned and effective as far as their stated goals, the problems our union should have been trying to solve were far larger.
Race and Class at OHSU
These are going to be difficult paragraphs to write, because when discussing the impacts of race and class at OHSU, the finger we point needs to point inward as well as outward.
It is clear, in hindsight, after last year’s EVS campaign and after more recent incidents on campus, that we as a union need to do better at effectively drawing attention to and resolving incidents of marginalization, discrimination and racism directed at our members and sometimes, sadly, by our members. We have allowed ourselves to fall into the trap of privileging the experiences of the dominant white culture over the experiences of people of color and other underrepresented employees — people who have not been silent, but whose voices also have not been heard.
When we learn to listen, do we then fall into the trap of paternalism and passivity, of assuming the best path to follow, of selectively filtering what we hear? Of subtly discounting experiences that are unfamiliar to us and of congratulating ourselves for our own good intentions? Of telling people who are in pain what we can or cannot do for them without asking them what we should be doing in concert with them?
Yes. Yes we do.
Good Intentions, Doing Better
Our union has good intentions — intentions to pursue a path of equity, racial and economic justice and basic fairness for all our members. We also know that we fall short of those goals.
We believe that at the highest levels of the organization, OHSU shares those goals. And we know that, as most organizations do, OHSU falls short of those goals — sometimes subtly, sometimes spectacularly.
Over the next few weeks, Local 328 is going to talk about some negative experiences our members have had at OHSU — experiences that place in bold relief the differences that race, ethnicity, disability, religion, sexual and gender identification, and economic and educational status make in how employees are perceived and treated and how those differences seem to operate within the very OHSU systems designed to protect employees from those injustices. How employees who make money appear to be privileged over employees who cost money and how the acts of employees in authority are minimized while far less egregious acts by rank-and-file workers result in terminations for cause.
We need to do better. Our union needs to open the doors of problem solving and engagement to all our members, especially members who are subjected to aggression, discrimination and microaggressions every day. We can’t solve this problem without you — in fact, “we” aren’t “we” without you. Our union needs more of us at the table — if necessary, we will build a bigger table.
OHSU needs to do better. It needs to listen to its employees and listen to our union when we talk about injustice faced by our members. OHSU needs to worry less about being exposed to lawsuits and protecting the revenue generators and more about living up to the ideals that an institution dedicated to the public’s well-being must embody, not just pay lip service to.
Our union will work with anyone who wants to help us become a better union and with anyone who wants to help bring transformative change to OHSU — including OHSU.