10/25/2019 - GRU Special Edition: Management's Economic Package Explained

Hello fellow scientists,

On Thursday, October 24, the OHSU Management bargaining team finally returned their first counter to economic issues that our union proposed several months ago. Instead of sending the full contract language out to you all, Management summarized the “highlights.”

We want you to understand the full package that Management has proposed (Full Text Available Here), so we will be comparing management’s summary to their actual proposed contract language and the language GRU originally proposed.

We want to be clear that this is only Management’s first offer, and we have not accepted any of the proposed language yet. GRU will continue to bargain for a fair contract that provides you with the best support possible. That means this is a great time to get involved and let your bargaining team know which parts of management’s proposal need to change!


Stipends

A. “Students in the School of Medicine who currently receive a lower pre-qualifying exam stipend amount will receive a 5% stipend increase upon ratification of the contract.”

Unfortunately, this represents only part of the dataset, as SOM pre-qual grads represent a small portion of our bargaining unit. The rest of Management’s proposal, which they chose not to present in their summary, is outlined below:

Student Type

% Increase for remainder of FY 2019

SOM post-qual grads

0%

SON grads

0%

SoPH grads

0%

Management is not offering a stipend increase to the majority of our members following contract ratification. Management has also chosen only to display percent increases instead of the stipend levels this would amount to.

So, what would our stipend levels continue to be this year, according to Management’s proposal? Note that SON and SoPH grads are currently paid much less than SOM grads. Management did not counter with any increase for these members, nor can they provide a reason for why they think these students deserve to make less.

Student Type

Stipend Level for remainder of FY 2019

SOM pre- and post-qual grads

$32,004

SON grads

$24,816

SoPH grads

$27,500 (or less if they are only offered a partial stipend)

We originally proposed a stipend level and yearly increases that are equal for all graduate researchers regardless of academic year, program, or school. While GRU supports an equal stipend level for pre- and post-qual SOM members, Management’s counter, contrary to Dr. Danny Jacobs’ stated commitment to "equal pay for equal work" does nothing to address the enormous pay gap between PhD students in different schools.

B. “All students will receive a 3% stipend increase effective July 1, 2020.”

Don’t be misled: when management says “all students,” they only mean SOM students. According to their proposed contract language, SON and SoPH grads are not guaranteed a 3% stipend increase for FY 2020; instead, it will be based on the NIH increase.

C. “Increases for 2021 and 2022 based on NIH increases (projected at 2%).”

While these increases would apply to all grads in our unit, and the NIH has consistently raised the NRSA stipend levels by approximately 2% over the past five years, there is no guarantee this will continue. In fact, in 2013, the NRSA stipends did not increase by a single penny. Additionally, a 2% raise is actually a pay cut given that inflation in Portland is approximately between 3% and 4%.

In their “2025 strategic plan”, OHSU claims that Diversity, Equity and Inclusion are a top priority. Among other factors, financial barriers make academic careers unattainable for underrepresented groups. OHSU leadership needs to reflect on the sorts of people who can take these financial hits, and the groups of people they exclude from science by refusing to offer a livable wage during graduate training.

Health Care Benefits

A. “Access to enroll in OHSU employee health insurance only.”

Management has accepted our proposal to give us access to the employee health insurance plan, but they did not extend to us all of the health-related benefits that most other employees at OHSU receive. We are employees, and we deserve access to all employee benefits, not just a limited subset.

B. “OHSU will pay the full cost of employee-only coverage in the OHSU EPO (Exclusive Provider Organization) health plan.”

This benefit was originally proposed by your union, and Management has accepted it in their counter. You will not have to pay the monthly premiums for your health insurance.

C. “Option to self-pay for other plans and/or dependent coverage.”

The overview’s “CURRENT” section quietly leaves out the current practice. Currently, SOM grads can receive financial reimbursement for costs associated with purchasing health insurance for their dependents from the marketplace, which was a band-aid for recently unilaterally taking away dependent coverage. However, during our bargaining session, Management verbally indicated that the dependent reimbursement system would be discontinued. Their counter offer allows grads to purchase dependent coverage, but it will not be financially covered or reimbursed by OHSU in any way like it is for all other employees at OHSU. This is a loss for grads with dependents. GRU will continue to fight for affordable dependent coverage.

Laptops

“OHSU will issue Dell laptops to all current and future students in bargaining unit.”

In response to your union proposing that all grad researchers are provided with space and equipment to properly and safely perform their work, management has countered with each student being able to borrow a “Dell laptop” of unspecified quality.

TriMet passes

“Student cost of $50 per year guaranteed for duration of contract.”

GRU originally proposed locking the price of a TriMet pass into the contract, and management has agreed. Your bargaining team will continue to push for affordable and convenient transportation options.

Retirement Plan

“No retirement plan, consistent with market practice.”

All other OHSU employees currently have some sort of option for a retirement plan. We proposed that we would also have an option for a retirement plan since, by recognizing our unionization, OHSU has conceded that we are employees. Management rejected this proposal and uses “market practice” as their excuse to deny us a universal employee benefit.

Research and Training Conditions Taskforce

“Memorandum of Understanding establishing a joint task force to ensure student activities are appropriately directed toward their research and training.”

GRU is interested in discussing this task force further, but since it has no final decision-making power, we will not accept it in lieu of actual contractual agreements that protect the fundamentals of our employment.

What’s Missing: W-2’s

We proposed that OHSU would report our income on W-2’s for a number of reasons, such as gaining access to tax withholding and benefits that require “earned income,” (e.g., independent retirement accounts, tax credits, and car and home loans).

Management has rejected this proposal and asserted that they will continue to report our income on 1099-MISC forms. Their main concern is that using W-2s to report the income of students who receive their own fellowships (NRSA, etc.) would jeopardize OHSU’s NIH funding. GRU has no interest in jeopardizing NIH funding. We have read the NIH guidelines extensively, and neither your union nor management have found anything that would prohibit reporting those stipends on W-2s, only language clearly indicating that the NIH does not consider us employees of the NIH.

Regardless, there is no question that students who are on their PI’s grant (which is 2/3 of our unit) could have their income reported on W-2s, as this is done at many universities nationwide.

Management has chosen not to update you on their choice to keep everyone on 1099 reporting, even though W-2s would be feasible to implement for the majority of our unit.

What’s Next?

We want OHSU to be a place where anyone can do research. OHSU also claims to want this.  However, Management's first economics proposal does little to ameliorate a status quo that prevents many people from pursuing a research career.

If you want a voice in shaping GRU’s response, join us at 5pm on Monday, October 28th in BRB 381 for the Contract Action Team Meeting!  

Science and Solidarity,

- Graduate Researchers United