Benefits Grievance: a Major Victory!

We finally have some progress to report on our health insurance issues. I imagine most of you remember the whole-unit drop from PacificSource that happened in February; we want to take a minute to provide some background on the issue, and give you all an update on the progress we’ve been able to make. You will be receiving an email from OHSU today, if you haven’t already, detailing the steps that are being taken to prevent future lapses of our coverage.  That these new safeguards are being put into place is entirely thanks to your direct action in filing nearly ninety grievances on the same day.

First off, this is not a new issue. If you’ve been coming to our General Membership Meetings you might remember us talking about this several times. The fragility of our OHSU-administered health insurance coverage was first highlighted in April 2021, when, much like last month, the entire bargaining unit was mysteriously kicked off our plan. Union leadership met with the OHSU benefits office and HR, and were told that this was a one-off mistake on the provider’s end, that it would never happen again, don’t worry about it.

Over the next year it became painfully obvious that it was not a one-off issue. Via the stewards we heard of case after case of GRs being dropped from coverage: of being unable to pick up medication, of being in doctor’s offices and told they had no insurance, of receiving dire notices from PacificSource and alarming calls from bill collectors. We suggested a contract addendum last November that would mandate that OHSU engage in regular audits of our coverage, obligate the benefits office to provide regular notices of our coverage, and to make sure that no one would have to pay out-of-pocket for expenses they never should have had. Management stalled, put us off, and told us that these addenda were simply impossible, and there wasn’t even really a problem, don’t worry about it.

So when I walked into lab on the morning of February 11, and heard from two of my labmates that they couldn’t access their health insurance, I was frustrated, but our union was ready. As it became clear that this was, once again, a bargaining-unit-wide lapse in coverage, it was also clear that this was an opportunity for direct action; an opportunity to make it clear to management that we, all of us, are fed up with this perennial, unacceptable failure to provide the basic benefits that our contract requires OHSU to provide. Rose and her team of stewards leapt into action, and by the end of the day they had filed grievances on the behalf of nearly ninety GRs, and management was finally listening.

Your action, your willingness to step up, has produced more movement on this issue than we’ve been able to generate in a year of meetings. Suddenly the contract addendum — including all of the provisions I mentioned above — is not only possible, but obvious and necessary. Also obvious and necessary are procedural safeguards on PacificSource’s end, to verify with OHSU benefits before they drop anyone from coverage. These may not solve all the issues — I would be astonished if they did — but they are concrete, enforceable safeguards. And maybe come the next round of bargaining, we will have more leverage to get onto a better insurance provider, arguably the best long-term solution.

One more practical note: if you do find yourself in a situation where you need to access health care, do not pay out of pocket. We have been assured that you can be “urgent added” for emergency coverage. If this happens, call the benefits office (503-494-7617) and explain that you are a member of the GRU bargaining unit and you are experiencing a lapse in coverage. Then, get in touch with us right away. Our union is here to ensure your rights are protected, and we will do everything we can to promote a speedy and fair resolution to the problem.

Again, thank you to everyone who stepped up to file a grievance and take part in this direct action: you are the reason we are moving towards more stable health insurance coverage.

It is because of our union structure that we were able to organize last month’s action to protect our contractual right to healthcare. Our union is as strong as our membership, and if you want to be part of our efforts to ensure fair treatment of GRs, please take a moment to join us if you aren’t currently a member. You can join by completing this form. Our Local number is 402.