Oregon university strike averted


In It TogetherOregon University System (OUS) and the union representing 4,332 support workers at seven state university campuses reached agreement at 2:30 a.m. Sept. 26 — averting a strike that was set to begin Sept. 30. The tentative agreement, reached after administrators dropped one provocative demand, will be voted on by members of Service Employees International Union (SEIU) Local 503.

Bargaining had previously stalled over management’s demand to double (to 18 years) the time it takes workers to go from starting salary to the top of the pay scale. Under the tentative agreement, workers who haven’t reached the top of the scale will receive their full “step” increases of 4.75 percent on June 30, 2014, and June 30, 2015 — and earlier than that if the university system receives additional funding from the February 2014 session of the Oregon Legislature.

Local 503 negotiators agreed to accept what they called “very modest” cost-of-living adjustments — 1.5 percent on Dec. 1 2013, and 2 percent on Dec. 1, 2014 — the same raises most state workers got in the recently ratified “DAS” contract. Local 503 had earlier proposed a 2.5 percent increase retroactive to July 1, 2013, when the previous two-year contract expired, and 2.5 percent a year later.

In a statement announcing the agreement to members, Local 503 called it “the best agreement that we could reach given financial realities of some OUS campuses.”

Local 503 had been all set to strike on the opening day of classes, and had collected commitments of support from students, professors, and graduate student employees.

Several union proposals will have to wait until next time, including one that would draw the line on “administrative bloat.” Local 503 had proposed that OUS return over the next two years to the student-to-administrator ratio it had in the 2007-2008 academic year. But OUS administrators said they were not willing to bargain over that proposal.

Local 503 had also proposed a “wage floor” so that no worker would be paid less than $2,498 a month — the dollar threshold at which a family of four becomes eligible for food stamps. Local 503 spokesperson Jill Bakken said almost 30 percent of the bargaining unit members earn below that amount. OUS at one point agreed to get halfway there during the two-year term of the contract, but later backtracked from that in bargaining.

Local 503 pledged to continue its campaign for living wages and adequate university funding, and against “administrative bloat.”


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