Members of the union that represents classified employees at Oregon's public universities, SEIU Local 503, overwhelmingly voted Tuesday to strike if the union and public universities cannot settle on a new contract, according to a union statement. If the union and public universities can't settle, then the union plans to strike Sept. 30.
The decision by more than 95 percent of voting members to authorize a potential strike comes after their most recent bargaining session at Oregon State University from Sept. 11-13.
After negotiations that the union has described as "insulting," SEIU Local 503 cited cost of living allowances that were too low to match actual worker needs, a lack of recognition for long-term university employees, and a proposal to raise the price of meals for dining-service employees from $1 to $3 as some of their frustrations.
The current offer from public universities includes a 2 percent cost of living adjustment (COLA) starting Nov. 2019 as well as 24 personal leave hours per year, among other items. The union is proposing 3 percent and 3.25 percent COLAs starting Oct. 2019 and Oct. 2020, respectively, along with 32 personal leave hours per year.
"Oregon's Public Universities remain committed and optimistic to reach an agreement on the contract with SEIU-represented classified staff as further mediated negotiations continue on September 23rd and 24th," wrote Oregon's Public Universities spokesperson Di Saunders. "While the universities are disappointed that, despite a 13.5 percent wage increase offer for the 2019-2021 contract, that those SEIU members who did choose to vote on September 16 and 17, agreed to authorize a strike."
The union and the public-universities bargaining team will meet Sept. 23 and 24 at Portland State University to negotiate. If they can't settle on a contract, then the union plans to strike Monday, Sept. 30, according to the statement.
"Management has shown that they value donors and athletics over student services," SEIU 503 Executive Director Melissa Unger said in a statement. "University employees are taking action because the work they do deserves respect. We will not suffer as a result of management's misplaced priorities any longer."
"While the parties did not reach agreement on economics to settle the negotiations, the Universities continue to remain optimistic that the parties can reach a final tentative agreement that is fair to the classified employees and sustainable for the students we serve," wrote the public-universities bargaining team in a summary of the Sept. 11-13 bargaining session.
SEIU Local 503 has 72,000 members, representing 4,500 classified employees in Oregon's seven public universities, according to the statement, along with care providers and nonprofit workers.