PORTLAND, Ore. (KOIN) – As COVID-19 cases rise, those on the frontlines of the pandemic continue their fight for a fair contract.

Hundreds of healthcare staff marched the streets of the OHSU Marquam Hill campus Thursday afternoon, as the Oregon AFSCME local 328 union held an ‘Invest in Us,’ workers rally.

Workers told KOIN 6 News the timing of the rally was critical, as their current contract is set to expire at midnight on June 30.

The contract expiration will grant the hospital workers their first opportunity to bargain for a new contract since the start of the pandemic – a pandemic they say has forced staff to ‘do more with less.’

“The workers are burned out,” explained AFSCME Local 328 Vice President, Sarah Curtis. “They’re exhausted, and we need decent pay and good benefits so that we can be competitive. There’s a worker shortage in healthcare, and we need to have the best people here so we can take care of the people of Oregon.”

While mediations are ongoing, Curtis said she hopes an agreement can be reached before a strike vote is called -but said the possibility is not off the table.

“We’re still trying to work out our differences, but we are pretty far apart,” Curtis said. “So, we are asking for OHSU to make a real commitment to come to the table with a serious offer that reflects the times we are living in with the labor shortages and inflation.”

Inflation was a hot button topic echoed by workers at the rally, as several staff told KOIN 6 News they can no longer afford to live in Portland on their current wages.

Theresia Lloyd-Siemer, a 23-year NICU Secretary at OHSU said she loves working at the hospital, but their current offer doesn’t help with cost of living or gas, stating, “We can’t afford to live in the Portland area unless we get a good raise … it’s getting to the point where we could be homeless too, and we’re just asking for a fair contract so we can still live here.”

In response to the rally and the claims made against OHSU, the hospital released the following statement to KOIN 6 News:

“OHSU and AFSCME have a long-standing, cooperative relationship. We have been bargaining since February 2022 and look forward to continuing to work collaboratively to reach agreement on a new contract that recognizes our AFSCME-represented members who work to support OHSU’s public missions. OHSU supports the rights of its members to coordinate and participate in protected union activity.”

Oregon AFSCME Local 328 said the next bargaining session is scheduled for July 5.