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Oregon universities hope union dispute resolved by start of term

After university representatives and the union were unable to agree on contract terms, the union voted to authorize a strike in the case that the parties are unable to negotiate a deal next week.

Posted: Sep 18, 2019 6:24 PM
Updated: Sep 18, 2019 6:33 PM

EUGENE, Ore. -- After a strike authorization Tuesday, the union representing classified university workers and Oregon's public universities are both hoping to reach a resolution.

SEIU represents 4,500 higher education workers at seven public universities in Oregon, including food service, office and custodial staff.  After university representatives and the union were unable to agree on contract terms, the union voted to authorize a strike in the case that the parties are unable to negotiate a deal next week.

RELATED: OREGON PUBLIC UNIVERSITY WORKERS AUTHORIZE STRIKE

"I think it would show them that the people who run campus really mean something to the prestige of our flagship research institution to the state," said University of Oregon grounds crew and SEIU member Nick Sloss. "I'm ready to go on strike and there are hundreds of people behind me who are too."

Oregon's public universities want to give classified staff a 2% cost-of-living adjustment this year and the next. They also want to increase their step adjustments, which increases a worker's salary range every year until they "top off," a total of 9.5% over two years. Workers who already reached their last step adjustment would receive a $750 bonus.

The union wants larger cost-of-living adjustments in addition to removing the lowest rung of their salary range and adding a higher one. 

"It's unfortunate that strike vote did occur given the attractive offer that is on the table," said Di Saunders, a spokesperson for the universities.

Union representatives said that their salaries haven't been keeping up with inflation and that their step adjustments keep their wages below market value.

"The university says they respect the work that we do and they appreciate the hard work we do. But our paychecks aren't reflecting that," said SEIU Local 085 president Louie Vidmar.

The universities and union will continue negotiations with a mediator on Monday. If a deal is not reached, a strike will begin on Sept. 30, five days after Oregon State University begins fall term and one day before the University of Oregon starts fall quarter.

"If there is a strike, and we really don't want that to happen, we want to be able to have all of us here working together to welcome all of our students back and not have financial difficulties come to our employees," said Saunders.

She said that if the strike occurs, unclassified staff and staff who choose not to strike would be moved to other positions to fill the gap. Oregon State University and the University of Oregon both told KEZI 9 News they are optimistic that a deal will be reached. If there is a strike, they say maintaining student services will be a priority.

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