University workers threaten strike as negotiations stall

Education

Oregon public university management and employees have not yet reached a new union contract

PORTLAND, Ore. (KOIN) — Thousands of Oregon public university workers are threatening to go on strike amid ongoing union contract negotiations.

A mediator met with employees and managers on Monday night to negotiate the 2-year contract covering more than 4,000 classified workers on Oregon’s 7 public university campuses.

A strike could happen as early as Monday if an agreement isn’t reached by midnight on Sunday. Employees haven’t gone on strike since 1995.

SEIU 503 represents workers in various departments, including food service, technology, financial aid and office assistants. The union wants a cost-of-living increase of just over 6% over 2 years.

The public university system is offering a 4% increase. It’s also offering a 13% step increase to 70% of workers based on years of service.

SEIU 503 wants more money for those who don’t get a step increase.

“We want cost of living increases that will allow those who are stepped out to keep up with inflation or for them to get a higher salary range,” said Rob Fullmer, a union employee at Portland State University.

Fullmer said the universities should invest more in quality employees.

“You can say, ‘We don’t value institutional knowledge, we don’t value workers who have dedicated their service to higher education, we want those workers to leave’ — I don’t think that’s a good idea,” said Fullmer.

The university system, meanwhile, is making plans for a possible strike.

“Those include bringing in temporary employees, redeploying others on campus,” said Di Saunders with Oregon Public Universities. “Not all SEIU members will strike and also outsourcing where we are able to do that.”

The universities are optimistic a strike can be averted.

“Parents should not worry too much about their students,” said Saunders. “There will be redeployment of staff, we will bring in temporary workers as needed. They may have to stand in a slower line.”

Both sides told KOIN 6 News they anticipate more face-to-face meetings before the strike deadline.

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