Letters to the EditorOpinion

Guest Viewpoint: All University of Oregon employees deserve a discrimination free workplace

This piece reflects the views of the author, Lois Yoshishige, and not those of Emerald Media Group. It has been edited by the Emerald for grammar and style. Send your columns or submissions about our content or campus issues to [email protected]

No employee should have to face racism, sexism, nepotism or discrimination of any kind on the job. Isolation and alienation of individuals for their differences leads to an atmosphere of tension, fear and hostility. As an institution of higher education, the University of Oregon should be a leader in providing a safe and welcoming culture.

Harassment can take many forms. Shifting workloads to burden specific employees over another, demanding unreasonable hours, systematically preventing advancement for a subset of long-term employees. When this kind of behavior is taking place on our campus, the result isn’t simply tension between employees and supervisors; it’s putting the lives of students at risk.

In a recent anonymous survey of SEIU 503 members working at the UO Health Center (UHC) – including licensed and non-licensed staff – 83 percent of respondents reported having seen specific coworkers being targeted and held to a different standard than their colleagues. 70 percent have seen disciplinary actions disproportionately impacting isolated members of their department. The vast majority of respondents believe that favoritism runs rampant at UHC in everything from disciplinary action to hiring and retention practices.

“Out of the last five people hired as medical aides, all but one are personal friends of the supervisor,” said one respondent. In many instances, long-time UHC staff members are passed over or prevented outright from applying for management roles. Experienced classified staff members at UHC often feel as though their knowledge and expertise both in the field and at UO is being undermined and belittled. The nursing department suffers from chronic low morale – witnessing staff members in tears after meetings with managers and directors is not uncommon at UHC.

Supervisory positions are being created with lower and lower qualifications. In many instances, supervisors are simply not qualified enough to cover for staff with extensive medical training and experience. “If staff members had confidence that their manager could fill in for them if necessary, then staff would have more confidence in management decisions,” concluded one respondent.

82 percent of survey respondents fear being the subject of retaliation if they were to speak up about the ongoing issues at UHC, and for good reason. The narrative at UHC is that staff “is expendable.” More than a few registered nurses at UHC report being told outright that, “Anyone can do your job.” Additionally, management has repeatedly ignored complaints of harassment, sexual harassment and racial discrimination. A non-classified member of the medical staff at UHC expressed concerns to UHC Executive Director LeAnn Gutierrez about discrimination they were witnessing toward classified staff. It was made clear by the Executive Director that no actions would be taken to address these issues unless forced upon the department by the University.

Short-staffed medical departments struggle while the insurance department continues to grow. In fact, 90 percent of survey respondents believe that management is working to build a workplace not dedicated to patient care, but rather to minimize costs and maximize profits. Management prides itself on efficiency, not care.

To complicate matters, Behavioral Health Services (BHS) – which assists people with mental health services from depression to homicidal ideation – has recently been downsized and relocated. Its new location does not provide adequate space for treatment, confidentiality and safety of both patients and staff.  When staff, the people who work directly with patients, try to question management regarding the changes they want to implement, management does not take their concerns into account.

It’s important to remember that UHC isn’t an average clinic or your local hospital: it’s a student health center. When we talk about the patients of UHC, we are also talking about the students of the University of Oregon. The consequences of UHC’s actions on the UHC staff affect patient health and overall well-being. The chaotic environment created by discrimination, nepotism and favoritism is an unnecessary weight on a workforce already burdened by incredible pressure.

These types of stories are likely just the tip of an iceberg. UO’s Department of Housing & Food Services has continuously struggled with racial, sexual and gender discrimination. Classified staff members at UHC are joining with House & Food Service workers and calling on the University to provide a safe and trusting work environment, where it is safe to report issues of inequality in the workplace without the threat of retaliation that could put the student body at risk.


Lois Yoshishige, SEIU Local 085 (University of Oregon) Chief Contact
Theodora Ko-Thompson, SEIU Local 085 President
Local 085 Executive Committee

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