Unionized Oregon university workers reach accord

Unionized Oregon university workers reach accord
KATU.com file photo

SALEM, Ore. - Negotiators for more than 4,000 classified workers on seven campuses in the Oregon University System -- represented by SEIU Local 503 -- have reached a tentative agreement with university officials for a new two-year contract.

The settlement, reached late Friday night after eight months of what union officials described as "sometimes acrimonious bargaining," will cover workers in 272 classifications. Those workers provide support for academic departments, student services and campus maintenance. More than half of those workers make less than $35,000 per year.

The new deal calls for eight to 16 unpaid furlough days over 21 months, pegged to salary levels, and a one-year freeze of scheduled step increments. This agreement is similar to one covering 18,000 state workers that the union reached six weeks ago with Governor Ted Kulongoski.

"Had the university system adopted the exact state model, there would have been more furloughs days," said SEIU Local 503 spokesperson Edward Hershey. "But with several campuses announcing a 4.6 percent decrease in pay for those people that aren't union, the furloughs were a compromise that ends up being somewhat less than the decrease.

"We're just glad that it's over and done with," Hershey said, "because our people were ready to strike. This is a much better result for everybody."

Unions officials reported that workers were preparing for a possible strike in light of "Chancellor George Pernsteiner and the State Board of Higher Education demanding far deeper cuts from university workers, including pay reductions, unlimited furlough days and a two-year step freeze."

"We were about to hand out football programs at this weekend's Oregon State University game, so we're glad those can be recycled," Hershey said.

Union leaders called the agreement "a fair approach that preserves campus services and adheres to the principle of shared sacrifice" in meeting the university system's need to minimize tuition increases in the face of budget constraints.

"From the beginning we said we were willing to pitch in and reach an agreement that helps balance the budget and protects the important services our members provide in support of students, faculty and the educational mission," said Marc Nisenfeld, a development engineer at Portland State who chairs the union's bargaining team, in a press release. "It took a while to get there, but this settlement achieves those goals."