Monday, December 09, 2013
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Jackson Stalley, left, president of SEIU 503 Chapter 082, talks with BJ Merriman, center, and Nat Elder at the chapter's strike vote Sept. 10 on the WOU campus in Monmouth.
September 17, 2013
MONMOUTH -- Bargaining teams from the Oregon University System and the seven public universities in the system meet Wednesday (today) in what is the last scheduled meeting before a strike is set to occur Sept. 30.
Some 250 classified staff at Western Oregon University voted last week in an overwhelming voice to approve a strike scheduled for Sept. 23 -- the strike was then delayed by the staff bargaining team for Sept. 30, the first day of fall term.
That sentiment was echoed by staff across OUS days before bargaining teams from both sides met Friday and Saturday.
After an unsuccessful session, both parties agreed Saturday to meet for a mediation session Wednesday to hopefully come to an agreement and avert the strike.
"We all want a settlement, none of us want a strike," Angie Barry, WOU bargaining representative, said.
If no agreement is reached during the mediation meeting, 4,500 staff members across OUS, and more than 250 at WOU, could walk out Sept. 30.
Because SEIU 503, the union representing staff at Oregon's public universities, is a fair share union -- nonmembers receive the same benefits as members but cannot vote on union issues -- not every staff member is obligated to strike, but the numbers of staff that might walk out could potentially be disastrous.
Western Oregon University
However, plans at each university are in place to assure that services are uninterrupted and classes go on as scheduled, Di Saunders, OUS director of communications, said.
Calls to WOU administration regarding specific steps to respond to the potential strike were not returned by press time.
"Each one has a little different plan based upon the campus," Saunders said. "Some of them are redeploying staff to handle the areas where the striking employees would be, and/or bringing in temporary staff to cover that."
The remaining obstruction to reaching an agreement hangs on the proposal from OUS to cut steps in half. Steps are the system used throughout OUS to reflect classified staff employment progress -- using the apprentice, journeyman, master model.
As it stands, a classified staff employee should reach master level in 10 years -- each year increasing 4.75 percent.
The OUS proposal effectively doubles the length of time it would take for an employee to reach master level.
The staff bargaining team has rejected the proposal and stands firm on keeping the system as it currently is.
The approach throughout the bargaining process for OUS has centered on the declined funding of the past decade, something that is just now beginning to improve.
"Basically the contract with classified staff has to work for all of the campuses. We need to look at sustainability," Saunders said. "Currently, the appropriations are more or less the same as it was 10 or 12 years ago, but we have 30,000 more students now."
Both parties remain hopeful an agreement can be made at Wednesday's meeting, regardless of how far apart the sides may be.
No further meetings are scheduled past Wednesday but are likely to be if negotiations continue to stall.
"I was hoping we would agree this time around and it didn't happen," Barry said. "I think they (OUS) are feeling a lot of pressure. I know management around here is trying to figure out how they're going to handle things when we go on strike."