Though not far apart, the salary and benefit bargaining between Southern Oregon University administration and its faculty union remained unresolved Tuesday, leading the administration to say it will call for mediation. 

The faculty, in a news release from Association of Professors at Southern Oregon University chief negotiator and math professor Kemble Yates, charged the administration with “breaking off” negotiations. Administration negotiator Brian Caufield denied that, noting, “We didn’t break off negotiations. These negotiations will continue. We’re ready, willing and able to negotiate and will do it with the assistance of a mediator.” 

Yates stated, “We have been bargaining in good faith and I really thought we had most of the sticky issues resolved with the administration. But apparently a salary difference of 1 percent total over three years — we’re asking for a total of 8.25 percent while they are digging in on 7.25 percent — is a gulf they cannot cross.” 

Yates said the difference in the salary dollars amounts to a total of less than $100,000 a year in an annual university budget of more than $50 million. 

Caufield, in a phone interview, countered that the administration’s numbers add up differently, as it includes “rollup costs,” the money compounding from the first years, which is “significant and beyond the parameters we wish to stay within” because of retrenchment and budget issues. 

The administration, said Yates, recently gave itself a 3 percent raise, and the classified staff union recently settled for raises comparable to what APSOU is asking for. 

Caufield also disputed that, saying teachers aren’t taking into account the reality that this is the first raise administration has had in years and they’ve suffered virtual pay reductions through furloughs. 

The administration proposed higher raises in the second and third years of the three-year contract, but that's hinged on enrollment increases, Caufield said. 

“If enrollment is up 1 percent, we’ll be able to afford more and give back,” Caufield said. “But they didn’t want contingencies.” 

Caufield said faculty were making mediation sound like a negative situation, but “a mediator can often help parties understand the strengths and weaknesses of their positions. They are a neutral and independent party, so they can find middle ground that’s not been focused on. 

“I encourage it at times, when parties are a little bit stuck and could use a third party to come in and say, ‘did you think about this or that?’ Particularly when they’ve been sitting at a table so long, talking over the same issues — to see it with different eyes.” 

By law, the mediation period can last up to 15 days. After that, either party can declare an impasse. Negotiations have been going on since June.

John Darling is an Ashland freelance writer. Reach him at jdarling@jeffnet.org.