The Oregon University System’s bargaining with staff is coming down to the wire, with classified staff union SEIU 503 scheduled to vote on strike authorization Sept. 9-11, in advance of a Sept. 13-14 bargaining session. Classified staff includes non-teaching and non-administrative staff from janitors to computer programmers. Union leaders say that OUS isn’t debating important work-related topics because the National Labor Relations Act doesn’t require some issues to be discussed.
“We have people who work full time and are on food stamps at the same time,” SEIU 503 Bargaining Committee Chair Marc Nisenfeld says. The low-wage proposal, one of the union’s permissive topics — topics that the bargaining agreement doesn’t mandate that negotiators discuss — would have prevented OUS classified workers’ eligibility for food stamps. “It would ensure that no one working full time in the system would earn less than the food-stamp eligibility level for a family of four, which is about $2,500 per month,” Nisenfeld says. But OUS has refused to bargain over the low-wage proposal or about insurance benefits for domestic partners.
Another topic that the OUS won’t debate is a proposed staffing ratio requirement. “We want them to agree to some sort of staffing ratios so that the number of students to administrative personnel, number of students to classified workers is a reasonable number,” Nisenfeld says. “In the past 10 years we’ve seen the student-to-administrator ratio drop, meaning that there are less students per administrator, and faculty and classified staff have skyrocketed, where there are way more students to faculty and students to classified workers.”
Nisenfeld says that the union is looking for two full steps (steps are pay increases based on experience for a given position). OUS proposed cutting each of the steps in half.
Authorization to strike would give union leaders the ability to call a strike if the Sept. 13-14 session isn’t productive. Nisenfeld says that was the case with the previous session, in which bargainers declared an impasse and called for the strike authorization vote. “We got pretty much nowhere on the economics,” he says. “We’re still pretty far apart.”
Even if classified workers vote for strike authorization, that doesn’t mean picket lines are inevitable, Nisenfeld says. “That kind of decision will be made in the next few weeks, probably around the time of the next bargaining session.” OUS classified workers last held a brief strike in 1995.