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Union members on strike after stalled contract negotiations with OIT

Students join their professors at the Oregon Institute of Technology as they strike. (Ambar Rodriguez/News 10)

KLAMATH FALLS, Ore. — Faculty at Oregon Institute of Technology took to the picket line and began striking on Monday as contract negotiations with the university stalled.

Although classes are still in session, some staff with the Oregon Tech-American Association of University Professors (OT-AAUP) began to strike after more than 500 days of discussions without reaching an agreement with the university.

“We are looking for fair wages, dependable benefits and defined workload, we want to know what our working conditions will be so we can recruit and retain the best faculty possible,” Sean St. Clair, the president of the OT-AAUP chapter and 17-year civil engineer professor at the university said.

According to a press release from OT-AAUP, negotiations with the university began in the Fall of 2019.

Since then, the press release read, “Oregon Tech’s senior administration declared impasse on March 10, 2021, indicating they felt negotiations with the union were no longer making progress. Their final offer was presented to faculty on March 17, and OT-AAUP also presented a final offer. Final offers were followed by a mandatory 30-day cooling-off period during which negotiations continued. After that period ended, the administration was permitted to unilaterally implement their final offer, and faculty members were permitted to strike.”

The last day of the ‘30-day cooling-off period’ was on April 17. The union then gave OT administration until Monday to reach a deal before they took to the picket lines.

“What we are looking for is that there is a lot of faculty who are underpaid compared to other universities, the math professors here at a technical university are paid less than some math professors at a community college or even at Southern Oregon University,” St. Clair said.

He explained the union is also asking for a ‘defined workload’ to include the number of classes they would be expected to teach each term and specifics on their responsibilities outside of teaching.

“We want the same benefits that the rest of the university has, everyone at the university is a part of the statewide system, they wanted the opportunity to take us out of the statewide system which would give us lower benefits and they would charge us more for it, we just want the same thing the administration has in terms of benefits,” he said.

Students stood by their professors, held signs, and chanted as they took part in the strike.

“It’s unfortunate that it reached this point,” Cynthia Roe, a four-year OIT student said. “It's not about the students, it's about keeping their money and not giving us what we deserve as students, meanwhile increasing our tuition every single year.”

Roe explained the professors at the university are the reason she decided to attend the college in the first place.

“According to all of my Canvas shelves no one has shown up to teach me today,” Roe said. “We are hoping this ends as soon as possible so we can get back our professors because right now we don’t have anyone teaching us.”

Alexander Zendejas, a five-year mechanical engineer student shared he and a group of students began an online petition in support of the faculty.

“It’s not fair to me and to many other students that the administration keeps taking more and giving less to the faculty that do the actual work," Zendejas said.

OIT responded to News 10 in a written statement, “Oregon Institute of Technology will proceed with classes as OT-AAUP faculty voluntarily strike. While it’s disappointing some faculty have chosen to walk away from their classes despite a generous offer from Oregon Tech, the University is prepared to continue operations with minimal disruption to classes or services."

The university and the union are set to meet on Wednesday to continue negotiations.

The university's full statement:

Oregon Tech remains committed to instruction without interruption

Oregon Institute of Technology will proceed with classes as OT-AAUP faculty voluntarily strike.

While it’s disappointing some faculty have chosen to walk away from their classes despite a generous offer from Oregon Tech, the University is prepared to continue operations with minimal disruption to classes or services.

Oregon Tech believes its salary offer, with the potential for faculty members to earn a 13% salary increase over the term of the contract, possibly more based on performance and promotion, is an excellent offer.

This figure includes a 9.5% salary increase over the same time period. This offer is made during a time of economic uncertainty and when many colleges and universities are slashing positions, dropping programs, with some closing altogether.

Oregon Tech offers to maintain the current level of healthcare whereby 95% - 97% cost of the plan(s) are paid for by the university. The university sees this as another major investment into our faculty and their well-being. All parties agree this is a very generous compensation plan, one that will attract and retain world-class talent.

Oregon Tech’s workload proposal is the workload status quo as determined by the Employment Relations Board (ERB) in October. These are workload expectations that are also found at other colleges and universities. Oregon Tech should be no different in its expectations.

Oregon Tech continues to ask the Faculty Union to consider these offers for what they are – exceptional. At this time when 1 in 9 positions in higher education has been eliminated, and when universities and colleges are facing economic uncertainty, it is prudent for Oregon Tech Faculty to value an institution that has made such an offer, and work diligently to conclude negotiations. While Oregon Tech sincerely seeks to avoid a faculty strike, should the faculty choose to walk out of their classes, Oregon Tech will shoulder the burden, will continue serving our students, and will carry forward with our mission.

In an email to students, Dean of Students Dr. Erin Foley said classes will be covered by full-time faculty who have chosen not to go on strike, part-time faculty, and other qualified instructors.

Students should continue to attend classes, unless notified otherwise by their department chair, and should continue their assigned work.

“We are committed to ensuring that instruction proceeds without interruption and that our students are given the opportunity to continue to pursue their academic goals,” President Naganathan said. “We remain optimistic that an agreement can be reached and remain committed to the collective bargaining process.”