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Two-year deal prevents university strike

A looming strike by thousands of workers at Oregon’s seven public universities has been avoided after the workers settled with management early Saturday morning on a tentative, two-year contract.

The agreement means that about 185 classified employees at Southern Oregon University are set to report to work Monday, the first day of class for many of the colleges, which had been the date the Service Employees International Union Local 503 had designated as the start of the job action.

Instead, business will go on as usual, as the union readies the contract for a ratification vote next month, followed by implementation of the contract in November.

“This tentative settlement allows us to begin fall term on Monday without the distraction of a labor dispute, and with all of us focused on serving our students’ academic and associated needs,” SOU posted on its website and social media outlets following the agreement, which was reached during talks held at the Oregon Institute of Technology campus in Wilsonville.

“(The deal) means that our students will be able to begin the academic year knowing that all resources of the university will be available to them and that their success is our top priority,” SOU said in announcing the agreement.

SEIU representatives told the Oregon Capital Bureau news service that the final agreement addresses several of the unon’s goals during the negotiations, including:

- The largest cost of living adjustment in over a decade;

- no leaps in health care costs;

- and a 48-hour leave bank that employees can use in inclement weather.

In a statement released to the Mail Tribune, the leaders of the sublocal chapter of SEIU credited the deal to the “strength and solidarity” of its membership during the negotiation process.

“We are very pleased with the outcome reached by our bargaining team,” according to the statement signed by chapter President David Raco and Vice President Barbara Henson. “We were only able to achieve such an incredible hard-fought victory because we were all able to come together in unity and we were willing to do whatever it took to get a fair contract.”

University workers had lamented that they were getting short shrift compared to other workers on the state’s payroll — especially after lawmakers voted to boost the amount of money going to public universities by $100 million over the next two years.

The median classified university worker makes $36,000 per year, according to SEIU Local 503.Classified staff work in jobs ranging from food service to information technology. The union had railed against what it said were sky-high salaries for top administrators, bloated management and modest pay raises compared to other state workers. The universities had countered that they had made fair offers.

In a joint statement accompanying the announcement, SOU President Linda Schott and the other six university presidents said that they were pleased to have a new deal with the classified workers, “who play an important role in the education of more than 120,000 Oregon public university students.

“Our university classified employees are respected colleagues,” the presidents wrote, “who are vital to the operation of our universities and the diverse student services each campus provides.”

University Shared Services Enterprise, which negotiated with SEIU on behalf of the universities, said that the new contract covers about 4,500 workers statewide.

In summary, the contract settlement included:

- 3.0% cost of living adjustment (COLA) for all classified employees effective July 1, 2019; and 2.10% COLA for all classified employees effective July 1, 2020 (total of 5.10% in raises over two years);

- Full step wage increases of 4.75% in each year of the next contract, representing a total of 9.5% over two years. This offer applies to more than 70 percent of classified employees not already at the top step of their classification;

- A longevity premium of 2.5% given yearly to classified employees who have been at the University at least five years and have been at the top of their salary range for at least a year from their salary eligibility date;

- A commitment to keep entry level-wages at all universities above Portland-metro area universities’ minimum wage by eliminating steps of the salary schedule that are below that rate;

- Moved 15 job classifications to higher salary ranges;

- Provided employees with 48 hours of paid time over the course of the 2-year agreement to be used in the event of campus closures and delayed openings due to inclement weather or hazardous conditions.

- Agreement to keep meal costs at current rates for dining service employees at the University of Oregon.

- All other benefits (healthcare, pension, holidays, vacations, sick leave, personal leave, bereavement, and others) remain as is in the current contract (2017-19) for the next contract.

SOU’s union leaders wrote in their release to the Mail Tribune that the membership had fought back (against) the takeaways” in benefits that the said the universities had preferred.

“We have never been more unified and committed to each other then we are now,” Raco and Henson wrote, “and this is why we have won the best contract we have seen in over a decade.”

They added that a specific date for ratification had yet to be determined.

Along with SOU, the state’s other public universities covered by the contract include Western Oregon University, the University of Oregon, Oregon State University, Eastern Oregon University, Portland State University and the Oregon Institute of Technology.

Claire Withycombe of the Oregon Capital Bureau and Mail Tribune staffers Kaylee Tornay and Robert Galvin contributed to this report.

People rally with the SEIU labor union near the state Capitol in Salem, Ore., Monday, May 20, 2019.{ } The SEIU Local 503 reached a contract agreement with Oregon universities Sept. 28 to avert a strike planned for Sept. 30 (Anna Reed/Statesman-Journal via AP)