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Oregon Tech Faculty Strike Over Wages, Benefits And Workload

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Sydney Dauphinais/JPR
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Faculty and supporters went on strike at the Oregon Institute of Technology on Monday.

The faculty union at Oregon Institute of Technology went on strike on Monday, demanding higher wages and a lightened workload. It’s the first ever faculty strike at a public university in Oregon.

Teaching staff and university administration have been butting heads over a new labor contract for the last 18 months. After failing to reach an agreement, the faculty union went on strike early Monday morning. Dozens of students, teachers and community members picketed outside the university in support of higher pay and better health coverage. Many held signs with phrases like, “students stand with faculty” or “fair contract now.”

Franny Howes, a union representative, says the strike is a last resort for what she believes would improve learning conditions for students.

“When we can’t do our jobs effectively, when we don’t know what our workload is or should be, we can’t be the best teachers that we have the ability to be,” Howes says. “So, if we want great universities in Oregon, we need to support the people who teach in them.”

The union is asking for workloads that are clearly defined in their contract. University administration argues that if faculty have lighter workloads, they would need to hire more instructors, which would translate to an increase in student tuition.

Ken Fincher is with OIT administration. He says the timing of the walk-out put an undue burden on students.

“You never want to have a strike, but during a pandemic, for faculty to go out when students have already suffered and had to do so much, it doesn’t seem to be in the students’ best interest for faculty to do this,” Fincher says. “We believe firmly that the faculty should be at the table and continuing to negotiate and they did not need to go out on strike.”

Fincher also emphasized that the university has taken a financial hit because of the pandemic, making faculty requests for higher pay likely to come at students’ expense. This is especially true, he says, because the faculty union has requested a 20% decrease in workload. Fincher said that over the course of the contract, the university offered to cover between 95% and 97% of healthcare benefits and increase salaries by 13%, which were both declined.

Negotiations between faculty and administration will continue throughout the strike until an agreement is reached. The next negotiation with university administration is scheduled for Wednesday.