Eastern Oregon profs drop strike plans, okay deal

LA GRANDE — Faculty at Eastern Oregon University (EOU) voted June 13 to approve a no-raise economic package. The deal will take them to the end of their first union contract with the lowest wages of any public university in Oregon.

“This is certainly no contract to celebrate,” said history professor Greg Monahan, the president of Associated Academic Professionals, Local 6200 of American Federation of Teachers-Oregon.

EOU in La Grande has 3,500 students and is the only four-year university in Eastern Oregon. In February 2003, a group of about 120 teaching faculty and librarians unionized by a six-vote margin, and it’s been tough going since. It wasn’t until June 2005 that their first union contract was signed. That was more than two years after they voted to unionize, and 11 months after faculty reaffirmed the union 75-36 in a union decertification election requested by anti-union faculty.

The first contract contained workplace rights, pay raises and a pay scale consisting of steps tied to experience. [Health and pension benefits weren’t part of the deal because all employees in the state system of higher education get the same.] The contract ran from July 2003 to June 2007, with wages and other economic issues to be negotiated later for the second half of that period.

Public employee collective bargaining law doesn’t allow union contracts to require that all employees in a unit be dues-paying members, but two-thirds of EOU faculty belong.

In contract bargaining for the second two-year period, Monahan said the union tried without success to win further raises. Faculty complained that they are the poorest paid in the state university system. At EOU, professor pay starts at $35,791 and goes up 1 percent for each year of service; full professors with 10 years experience earn in the low 50s.

Members voted 90 percent to authorize the bargaining committee to call a strike. It was the first time they’d used such a threat. There has never been a strike by university faculty in Oregon.

But the EOU administration didn’t budge. Members will still get the step increases listed in the original agreement, but no other raises.

“We were dead last in the priority list,” Monahan said. “By the time we managed to get a contract, they really were out of money.”

Monahan said faculty backed off plans to strike in fall term because it could hurt the university and threaten enrollment, with no guarantee of a better outcome.

The contract expires June 30, 2007, which means bargaining will begin again in April 2007.

Monahan said next time faculty won’t settle for the same.