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Oregon Public University Staff Consider Strike Before School Year

Southern Oregon University

With the university school year set to begin in a matter of weeks, some state union employees are considering going on strike, including more than 350 members of SEIU Local 503 in Southern Oregon.  


Months-long talks between Oregon’s public universities and classified workers continued late last week. SEIU 503 union members include campus IT workers, electricians and carpenters, dining services and college admissions staff.


The union is negotiating over annual pay raises and cost-of-living increases. According to Rob Fullmer, an IT specialist at Portland State and the union’s bargaining chair, the cost-of-living increases in past years, including the 2018-2019 academic year, were small.  


“Our cost of living adjustment was 1% [in 2018-2019],” Fullmer says. “I live in Portland. I can tell you that my cost went up by significantly more than 1%.”


About 5,000 higher education workers statewide are members of SEIU 503, including 365 members at Southern Oregon University and Oregon Institute of Technology.


Union members are hoping for a 3% cost-of-living increase in October 2019 and a 3.25% increase in October 2020. They’re also negotiating to adjust the annual “wage step increases” so that employees who have reached the ceiling for the number of raises they can get qualify for an additional 4.75% raise.


The public universities are offering classified staff a 2% cost-of-living increase each year for the next two years and a one-time bonus of $750 for employees who have reached the top of their wage range and who are not eligible for additional step increases.


"That is what we believe is a fair and respectful offer, given the financial realities that the public universities face,” Di Saunders says. She's Associate Vice President for Public Affairs at Oregon Institute of Technology, and is the collective bargaining spokesperson for Oregon’s public universities.


Union members finalize a vote on whether to strike on Tuesday, September 17. The earliest a strike could begin is Friday, September 27. A final round of negotiations will take place at Portland State University on September 23 and 24.


Both Saunders and Fullmer say their groups hoped to avoid a strike in the coming weeks.


“None of my other bargaining team delegates want to strike either,” Fullmer says. “We work in higher education because we believe in the mission. We want to serve students. We want to serve the educational mission of the state of Oregon and the best way to do that is by showing up to work and doing our job.”