SEIU 503 prepares to strike at 7 Oregon universities

Since July 29, SEIU Local 503 has been circulating a member petition in support of strike authorization at the Oregon University System.

Since July 29, SEIU Local 503 has been circulating a member petition in support of strike authorization at the Oregon University System.

Service Employees International Union (SEIU) Local 503 is laying the groundwork for a strike at the Oregon University System (OUS). Local 503 represents 4,200 support workers at the system’s seven state universities, including facilities, IT, and clerical workers. After six months of bargaining failed to produce a new contract, Local 503 declared impasse Aug. 19. Now the union is collecting member signatures on a strike pledge petition, scheduling strike authorization votes around the state, and calling on faculty and students to sign a pledge not to cross strike picket lines.

Wages are a key sticking point. OUS is proposing across-the-board increases of 1.5 percent on Dec. 1, 2013, and 2 percent a year later. The union is proposing 2.5 percent retroactive to the July 1, 2013, expiration of previous two-year contract, and another 2.5 percent July 1, 2014. Local 503 is also proposing that the across-the-board raises be a minimum of $75 per month, thus bringing the lowest-paid workers up more.

The two sides also disagree on “step” increases that reward workers for sticking around. Under the previous contract, workers get a raise of about 4.75 percent a year until they reach the top of the pay scale after nine years. OUS is proposing to divide those step increases further, giving only half a step increase each year.

OUS dropped several demands that earlier had provoked union members, including a proposal to eliminate the right of more senior workers to “bump” less senior workers in the event of layoff. OUS also backed off a proposal to stop paying at the overtime rate for work beyond eight hours in a day.

But OUS also backtracked from its earlier willingness to meet the union half-way on a “wage floor” proposal. Local 503 is proposing that no worker be paid less than $2,498 a month — the dollar threshold at which a family of four becomes eligible for food stamps.

The two sides agree on health benefits, for the most part, including that employees would pay 5 percent of the premium. But OUS has balked at SEIU’s proposal that employees with domestic partners be reimbursed for the federal health benefit tax they must pay. The IRS treats employer-provided spousal health coverage as a tax-free benefit, but makes employees pay a tax on the same benefit when it covers a same-sex or opposite-sex domestic partner. SEIU views its proposal as a civil rights issue.

 

Last ditch talks continue

Despite the declaration of impasse, the two sides met Aug. 26 to negotiate with the help of a mediator, and are set to meet again Sept. 13 and 14 in Corvallis. Bargaining sessions rotate around the state’s seven campuses, and SEIU has organized rallies outside each bargaining session.

A group of Steelworkers union activists —on a nationwide "Summer of Solidarity" tour — stopped in Portland Aug. 28 and rallied with workers who are getting ready to strike at seven state universities.

A group of Steelworkers union activists —on a nationwide “Summer of Solidarity” tour — stopped in Portland Aug. 28 and rallied with workers who are getting ready to strike at seven state universities.

On Aug. 28 it held another rally — after receiving an offer of solidarity from a group of steelworkers traveling the United States in a “summer solidarity tour.” About 100 union members and supporters, plus the steelworkers, assembled in Portland State University (PSU)’s Urban Plaza.  Several unfurled a 20’ “Fair Contract Now” banner from the top of an adjacent building. But when union members brought their noisy protest to the nearby state chancellor’s office, they found a locked door. OUS lead negotiator Brian Caulfield greet them outside the office, and accepted their letter to the chancellor. Demonstrators next visited the office of PSU president Wim Wiewel, but were told he was out to lunch.

Wiewel — who lives rent-free in a university mansion and receives $512,786 a year in compensation — wrote to university employees in August, announcing a badge that entitles them to attend 20 PSU sporting events for free.

“I’d much rather have a living wage,” Local 503 member Lora Worden told the Labor Press. Worden said she earns $11.82 an hour doing data support at PSU’s Graduate School of Education … and has $90,000 in student debt to repay for her bachelor’s and master’s degrees. She’s one of an estimated 1,200 workers who would see wages rise substantially if the Oregon University System agrees to the proposed wage floor.

Strike authorization ballots will be counted Sept. 11. If members authorize it, they could strike as early as Sept. 23, after a mandated 10-day notice. Fall term classes begin Sept. 30. Local 503 is asking students and faculty to commit that if there’s a strike, they will honor strike picket lines by joining picket lines and campus rallies, refusing to patronize campus services, and canceling or skipping classes or holding classes on the picket lines.

[Previous coverage here.]

Ethan Picman, SEIU Local 503's chief steward at Portland State University, explains the bargaining impasse with the Oregon University System, at an Aug. 28 rally.

Ethan Picman, SEIU Local 503′s chief steward at Portland State University, explains the bargaining impasse with the Oregon University System, at an Aug. 28 rally.

7 Responses to SEIU 503 prepares to strike at 7 Oregon universities

  1. Sorry, I empathize…to a point…with the union on this but I’m not paying $24,000 this year for my son to NOT attend classes.

    • No offense but the fact that you can pay $24,000 a year for your son to go to school for a year while many of the workers – clerical, IT, food services, maintenance have to use food stamps and food banks to feed themselves or their families is one of the reasons to support the strike (including your son not crossing the line).
      My husband helps to make sure that your sons/daughters can get onto the college network, print their documents, helps to restore their hard drives when they crash, explains about security because these people download music, films, and actually pick up viruses that get into the universities’ systems and down the servers. My husband helps to make sure that the computer systems aren’t hacked, stay operational, etc. No offense – people get an hour orientation about the computer system before school starts! He even helps parents with computer questions, explains what to buy, etc. He’s available 24/7 and doesn’t get overtime. I’ve seen many students completely screw their laptops and then almost take down a university’s computer system because of a music download. PAY THE WORKERS WHAT THEY’RE WORTH!

  2. Then you should join the fight for these workers to get better wages, so your son can get back in the classroom sooner than later and with a more justly paid support staff.

  3. Duck Dad, I agree with you… to a point!

    I wouldn’t pay 24k to the OUS for your son to not attend classes either. OUS has made some bad choices, and they need to honor their commitments. Staff at these institutions have been taking pay cuts for over 4 years because of the down economy and I personally have been happy to help in that crisis time. Now that Oregon is getting its budget under control and the economy is recovering, there is no reason to penalize OUS staff over the other state staff (we are, it’s really weird). We are being targeted by OUS because they can, and because we were nice to them in the past.

  4. Your son still can go to class and yes that is a lot of money But whose campus is it? Is it Phil knights campus? or is it the faculty and staff and Students of the university that make up the community of Oregon university for years PHIL knight and his goonies have been funneling money into breaking are Union apart .Do you really want to teach your child his first lesson is that if you have a lot of money you can contract out your business for cheap and have south east Asian kids make your shoes for less than 3$ an hour and sell a pair for over a hundred?. OR maybe you would like to tell him to build a law building and a huge arena donate it to the university put his name on it and then make classified WORKERS clean it maintain it and not pay them for it IM pretty sure you would not instill these values to your son .March with us and stand up for what is right we will always be there to clean the dorms serve the food and maintain the building no matter if the Ducks win or loose!

  5. What about if we as students refuse to pay tuition until the contract is settled to the union’s satisfaction? It seems that we have more leverage that way than by not attending class.

  6. Pingback: Oregon University System workers file strike notice | nwLaborPress

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