Over 2,000 OHSU Research Workers File for Union Representation With Oregon AFSCME

PORTLAND, Ore. – Citing job security and OHSU’s long term plans for supporting research, a strong majority of the over 2,000 eligible biomedical research workers at the Oregon Health & Science University (OHSU submitted union authorization cards with the Oregon Employment Relations Board (ERB) on Friday, April 26th.

Research workers at OHSU are on the cutting edge of live-saving biomedical research focusing on a wide scope of topics from cancer, ALS and seizure disorders to coronaviruses and mental health disorders. Eligible workers who signed cards range from scientists to clerical staff and software/analytical tool makers.

“In choosing to focus on academic research instead of going to the private sector where we could make several times our wages, we’re helping drive revolutionary advances in medicine that will have a lasting effect on the health and well-being of people in need” said Madeline Hedberg, a pancreatic cancer researcher in the Department of Surgery.

“We organized our union in order to raise standards in our industry so that our jobs can be seen as stable careers and not just ‘stepping stones’. Up until now we haven’t been listened to, but now with our union, we’re stronger together” continued Hedberg.

Like so many OHSU researchers, Ms. Hedberg started off barely scraping by. 

“My starting wage was about $36,000 a year, while at the same time I had about $300 a month in private student loan payments and another $200 in federal student loan payments to make - on top of the cost of living in Portland,” added Hedberg.

Prior to submitting authorization cards, Research Workers United requested OHSU voluntarily recognize their union or remain neutral in the ERB election process and allow workers to use their voice freely without coercion. OHSU declined to voluntarily recognize the union, choosing to rely on the formal ERB process for verifying that a majority of research workers signed authorization cards.

“These workers are conducting and supporting cutting edge research which is the foundation of work done at OHSU and literally saves lives. However, they’re barely able to afford to live in the community they’re such an important part of,” said Joe Baessler, Executive Director of Oregon AFSCME.

“In joining the over 8,000 Oregon AFSCME represented workers at OHSU, these research workers have the power to make their voices heard in the decisions that affect themselves and their research. They are standing up to make sure the work they do is supported for the benefit of patients.” added Baessler.

In forming their union with Oregon AFSCME, Research Workers United join the House Officers (AFSCME Local 4820), Graduate Researchers (AFSCME Local 402), Postdocs currently bargaining their first contract as well as OHSU workers represented by Local 328.