SEIU, Universities Avoid Strike

A contract between university management and 4,500 workers will avoid strike on Monday

"Solidarity Against Austerity,” was collaboration of the Graduate Teaching Fellows Federation and Service Employees International Union Local 503 (SEIU) in June 2019.

Although classified staff at the University of Oregon were ready to strike Monday, Sept. 30, as classes began, SEIU won’t walk out after a Saturday early morning agreement was made between the two parties.

Since the beginning of the negotiations, SEIU took an aggressive approach to bargaining and had been open to going on strike if management didn’t agree what the union wanted in the next contract.

“This is a win for the 4,500 workers who dedicate their lives to Oregon universities,” according to a press release from Melissa Unger, executive director of SEIU Local 503. “This hard-fought victory is a testament to the strength and solidarity of Oregon’s front-line university workers.”

SEIU is calling the agreement a historical win and resisted management’s attempt to strip away benefits and curb wages. The agreed-upon contract also respects classified staff, according to a statement from the union.

During negotiations, the union often said management had offered contracts that didn’t respect workers.

The SEIU and university management agreed on a 3 percent cost of living adjustment (COLA) for all classified employees on July 1, 2019, and 2.1 percent COLA for all classified employees after July 1, 2020.

In a statement, the union says the COLA increase is the largest in more than a decade.

SEIU employees who have maxed out step increases — about 70 percent of classified staff — will receive full step increases of 4.75 percent each year of the two-year contract. These employees will also receive an annual increase of 2.5 percent if they’ve worked at a university for at least five years and are earning the top of the salary range for at least one year.

Management at the seven universities also agreed to eliminate the lowest tier salary and ensure all entry-level wages are above the Portland-metro area universities’ minimum wage.

Food service workers at the UO will also be able to continue to purchase $1 meals. The UO wanted to increase meals to $3, citing the expenses were impacting their budget.

Classified staff will also have 48 hours of paid time over two years to use in case of campus closure and delayed opening due to inclement weather or hazardous conditions. All other benefits will remain in tact, as well.

SEIU members voted to authorize a strike Sept. 16.

The union represents employees on campuses who work in food preparation, grounds and building maintenance, custodial services, student registration, financial aid assistance, tech support and other services.

Members still have to ratify the contract in October. If they agree on the two-year contract, it goes into effect in November.

Meanwhile the UO and the graduate employee union, Graduate Teaching Fellows Federation, have agreed on an impasse, meaning a 30-day cool down must follow before the GTFF’s members can vote on whether to strike.

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