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SEIU union declares impasse in contract talks covering 4,500 Oregon public university classified employees

Service Employees International Union Local 503

Wages, cost-of-living adjustments key issues in talks; OSU-Cascades has 38 classified employees

EUGENE, Ore. (KTVZ) – On Friday morning, the Service Employees International Union Local 503 bargaining team representing 4,500 classified employees working at Oregon’s seven public universities, including OSU-Cascades, declared an impasse in contract negotiations with the schools.

Here's the full statement issued by a representative of the public universities, followed by a news release from SEIU Local 503:

“It’s very disappointing that the SEIU bargaining team has declared an impasse, even while both parties have another round of mediated bargaining scheduled to take place on Monday,” said Steve Clark, spokesperson for the universities bargaining with classified employees.

Bargaining teams representing SEIU and the universities met throughout Thursday with a state-appointed mediator. The bargaining teams began meeting last fall to discuss re-opener economic matters and other issues in a five-year classified employee contract that was adopted in 2021 and continues through June 30, 2026.

The negotiations involve 4,500 classified employees working at Eastern Oregon University, Oregon Institute of Technology, Oregon State University, Portland State University, Southern Oregon University, the University of Oregon and Western Oregon University, including 38 classified workers at OSU-Cascades' Bend campus.

“Despite impasse being declared, Oregon’s universities remain committed to finding a path toward resolution,” Clark said.

“The universities recognize and appreciate the contributions that all classified employees make to student success and each university’s mission. We have offered wage increase proposals over three years of 14%, along with unparalleled benefit programs that seek to compensate classified employees and take stock of recent inflation, while also being financially prudent and minimizing tuition impacts on students and their families.

“It is essential that Oregon’s universities are financially stable, and remain accessible and affordable for students in the years ahead,” Clark said.

Now that impasse has been declared, by Oregon law governing bargaining involving public employees, both the SEIU and universities’ bargaining teams will submit final contract offers to the Oregon Employee Relations Board by March 1. After filing those offers, state law requires a 30-day “cooling-off” period to begin. The two parties will continue to meet in negotiations during this period.

Issues separating the union and the universities largely center on wages, Clark said.

The universities have offered eligible classified employees the following compensation increases over the next three years:

  • 6.50% COLA increase effective April 1, 2024, plus a $1,000 per employee contract settlement bonus payable in May of 2024.
  • 5.00% COLA increase effective January 1, 2025.
  • 2.50% COLA increase effective January 1, 2026.

The proposed raises are in addition to annual 4.62% “step” wage increases or a 2.50% longevity premium that eligible classified employees receive.

“The universities proposal seeks to fairly address economic matters, including inflation that has taken place nationally,” Clark said. “Our proposal for raises, when combined with step increases, equals more than a 25% increase over three years for eligible employees.

Meanwhile, Clark said the universities provide significant other benefits to classified employees, including:

  • Paying either 95% or 97% of the healthcare premium costs for eligible classified employees and their dependents.
  • Continuing to pay the 6% of gross wages PERS “pick-up” for eligible classified employees, which the state of Oregon does not provide for its own employees, in addition to the universities paying employees’ entire regular PERS pension benefit.
  • Continuing to pay a minimum wage that is higher than the state’s highest minimum wage. The SEIU bargaining team has proposed:
  • 6.50% COLA increase effective April 1, 2024.
  • 6.00% COLA increase effective July 1, 2024.
  • 3.75% COLA increase effective July 1, 2025.
  • $2,000 bonus per employee.

The union’s proposal for three-year raises totals 16.25%, not including the average annual 4.62% step increases or 2.50% longevity premium provided to eligible classified employees. Clark said if the universities were to accept the SEIU proposal, step-eligible classified employees would receive raises totaling more than 30% over the next three years.”

Clark said the universities remain hopeful that new contract terms will be settled soon.

“SEIU-represented classified employees and the universities have a long and successful history of reaching agreement in contract bargaining without a work stoppage occurring,” Clark said. “Our records show the last strike by SEIU employees was in the mid-1990’s.”

A strike cannot occur during the 30-day cooling off period that results following an impasse being declared. The cooling off period ends Sunday, March 31. According to Oregon law, SEIU must provide the universities with a 10-day notice of their members intent to strike. The notice must specify the date of when a strike may begin and provide the reasons for a strike being called. A notice to strike can be sent during the 30-day cooling off period. Clark said even while at impasse and within a cooling off period, the universities and SEIU are required by law to continue bargaining until agreement is reached.

“The universities strongly believe their proposal is a fair offer. It acknowledges the service and contributions to student success that classified employees make, while considering that inflation that burdens employees, also burdens students and their families, and university operations.

“With tuition being the primary revenue source for the universities, any wage increases must be balanced against impacts on Oregon students and their families.”

Clark said unlike state agencies, raises provided university employees are not funded by the state Legislature.

“While we are hopeful that a strike will not occur, plans are being developed by each Oregon public university in the event of a work stoppage occurring,” Clark said.


SEIU 503 Higher Education Workers Declare Impasse in Contract Negotiations 

Salem, OR - Higher education workers represented by SEIU Local 503 today declared impasse in negotiations with university management, after management's failure to bring meaningful proposals to the table in bargaining.
Union members have been negotiating with university management since October of 2023. Inflation has continued to eat away at the ability for people to afford the basics, like rent and food, and the universities have not offered a cost-of-living increase that keeps up with the cost of inflation.

Just like workers throughout our economy, university workers are going to their jobs and making less than they did a couple of years ago. The universities have failed to prioritize the workers who make sure the campuses run, the people that came to campus in person every day while so many others were able to work from home. Classified staff are the people who make sure that students have the resources to succeed.
SEIU 503 represents 4,500 higher education workers at Oregon’s seven universities: Portland State, University of Oregon, Western Oregon, Southern Oregon, Eastern Oregon, Oregon Institute of Technology and Oregon State University.
“Our members love the university community where they work, and they should be supported in their jobs,” said Melissa Unger, executive director of SEIU Local 503. “We are disappointed that university management has yet to see the value in lifting up essential workers whose jobs are so important.”

Richard Keuneke, who works full time at Oregon State University in food service, says it’s hard to make ends meet on his $17.43 an hour pay. More than half of his wages go to rent, and his family’s income is low enough that they receive state assistance. Food service and custodial staff are the lowest paid workers on campus, and many earn so little, they are on food stamps and are unable to live in the communities where they work.

The disparities between university presidents’ and athletic coach base salaries (they take home additional pay for housing and other benefits) compared to custodial workers is stark: Oregon State’s athletic director earns nearly $1 million, the university president makes $747,000, while custodians on average at Oregon’s public universities make just over $36,000.

“Our members need a raise, plain and simple, and one that reflects what we just experienced with inflation,” said Johnny Earl, custodial coordinator at the University of Oregon. “Our members are in desperate need – and they need some relief now. They should not have to rely on food banks and second jobs just to pay their bills.”

Sticking points in the negotiations include better cost-of-living adjustments (COLAs) that enable workers to keep up with the cost of inflation and management’s insistence that language in the existing contract be watered down to allow universities to contract out Union jobs, and making sure union members have access to their union.
Bargaining with a mediator present is scheduled for Monday, February 26th at the University of Oregon in Eugene. If agreement is not reached then, the bargaining team may proceed to a strike vote, one step closer to an actual strike.
Higher education workers have the support of allies in the labor movement; Teamsters Joint Council 37 has publicly committed to supporting SEIU 503 members and not crossing picket lines if the situation escalates and members authorize a strike.

Article Topic Follows: Education

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