Members of the union that represents classified workers from Oregon’s seven public universities are at a stalemate with the state’s bargaining team and are preparing for a possible strike, according to a Tuesday statement from the union.

The bargaining teams from Service Employees International Union, Local 503—which numbers about 72,000 members in Oregon—and the universities could not reach an agreement following a two-day session of mediated contract negotiations on Aug. 15 and 16 at Western Oregon University. Now, each will put in their final offers, after which the union may strike in protest.

"We're here because we believe in the mission of higher education," said Rob Fullmer, a member of the SEIU 503 bargaining team and an IT specialist at Portland State University. "We think that it's important and that's why we choose to work here rather than working in other places where we can make more money."

A request for comment to the state’s bargaining team was not immediately returned. The state’s bargaining team represents Oregon’s seven public universities, including Eastern Oregon University, Oregon State University and Portland State University, among others.

Some of the proposals from SEIU 503 include establishing higher cost-of-living adjustments, increasing employees’ time for personal leave from 24 to 32 hours per year, and paying classified staff when campuses close due to weather, according to an Aug. 19 union statement.

Classified employees include custodians, information technology professionals and clerks, among others, SEIU 503 spokesperson Jay Parasco said. SEIU 503’s membership includes about 5,000 of these employees.

Now, SEIU 503 is declaring an impasse. Under Oregon law, once a bargaining party declares an impasse and notifies the Oregon Employment Relations Board, each party has to submit their final contract offer to an outside mediator within seven days.

“We’re essentially asking for comparable compensation packages to what was just awarded to all the other state workers, similar to what administrators gave themselves and less than what the university presidents, all of who make significantly more than what these workers just received,” Parasco said.

If the parties still can’t agree on a final contract after another 30 days, known as the “cooling-off period,” then the union can strike with a 10-day notice, according to the website of the universities’ bargaining team. To strike, the SEIU 503 bargaining team would call for a vote from union members, among other steps.

SEIU 503 includes employees who work in health care, local and state governments, higher education and nonprofits. The current contract expired June 30, and union members are working under a contract extension, Parasco said.

University workers are holding a solidarity lunch tomorrow, Wednesday, Aug. 21, from noon to 1 p.m. at the SW Park Blocks by Portland State University campus.

Under last year’s contract, Fullmer says, he got a cost of living adjustment of 1 percent.
“I can tell you that my cost of living in Portland went up by a lot more than that,” Fullmer says.