Clock ticking for strike at Oregon's state universities by SEIU #503

Service Employees International Union (SEIU) Local 503, Oregon Public Employees Union, which represents over 3,700 classified staff at all seven public universities, declared impasse in negotiations with the Oregon University System Aug. 6. The declaration triggers the assignment of a state-appointed mediator and sets the clock ticking for a strike if the sides don't reach agreement.

Bargaining for the University System's classified employees, though limited to wages, benefits, and five other issues, has been under way four months without resolution. The bargaining unit includes clerical and maintenance staff and many other non-managerial positions.

Workers are seeking across-the-board raises of 3.23 percent, equivalent to what state workers in another bargaining unit were promised. It also wants a "living wage" established, with a floor of $9.50 an hour; some custodians, food service workers, and word processing techs currently earn below that amount.

The Oregon University System has yet to make any economic counterproposal.

The union also seeks the right to represent student employees (except those whose employment consists of work-study grants.) And it questions recent growth in employees classified as supervisors, suggesting many of these workers should be part of the represented bargaining unit.

SEIU also wants greater workplace rights, such as the right to use interactive e-mail and university facilities for meetings.

Management wants to make it easier to contract out the work of union members.

Several more bargaining sessions are scheduled. If no agreement results, the union plans a strike vote in early September.

To dramatize the declaration of impasse, workers at each of the state universities mobilized in some fashion: At Oregon State University, several dozen workers presented the declaration to management on the back of a picket sign; at Oregon Institute of Technology, employees requested increased income tax withholding allowances, to signal that they are saving money in preparation for a strike.

August 24, 2001 issue

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