Oregon Tech faculty union raises legal questions as strike continues

By Meerah Powell (OPB)
April 29, 2021 12:02 a.m. Updated: April 29, 2021 7:20 p.m.

Oregon’s first-ever faculty strike at a public university is on its third day

Members and supporters of the Oregon Institute of Technology's faculty union,  picketing in front of the school's Klamath Falls campus, Apr. 28, 2021.

Members and supporters of the Oregon Institute of Technology's faculty union, picketing in front of the school's Klamath Falls campus, Apr. 28, 2021.

Donald Orr / OPB

The faculty union and administrators at the Oregon Institute of Technology are now accusing each other of unlawful actions as the state’s first public university faculty strike reaches the end of its third day.


The faculty union, Oregon Tech’s chapter of the American Association of University Professors, went on strike Monday morning, after more than a year of negotiations. Now, instructors and supporters are holding picket signs near OIT’s campuses in Klamath Falls and Wilsonville.

Strike affects Oregon Tech courses

In a statement from the university Monday, OIT said the university was prepared to continue operations “with minimum disruption to classes or services.”

“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,” OIT President Nagi Naganathan said in that statement Monday morning.

But, according to the union, faculty and students had reported that there were more than 40 classes without teachers on Monday.

Shiloh Castelli, a student at OIT’s Wilsonville campus, said they were told by OIT administration that the strike would not affect students’ classes, but that was not the case.

“I’m in a program called Medical Laboratory Science and I don’t have labs,” Castelli told OPB Wednesday.

Castelli, who stood with a group of other supporters on the picket line outside of Oregon Tech’s Portland-area campus, said they don’t have classes for this week due to the strike.

“As a student, I think it’s clear what faculty does for us — how they help us out so much, the services they provide and the fact that they routinely go above and beyond,” Castelli said. “For me, it’s just really important to show that solidarity with them, to show up for them.”

Justin Ringle, a grad student at the Oregon Institute of Technology, center, stands on the picket line in front of the Wilsonville campus, April 27, 2021.

Justin Ringle, a grad student at the Oregon Institute of Technology, center, stands on the picket line in front of the Wilsonville campus, April 27, 2021.

Kristyna Wentz-Graff / OPB

OIT Executive Director of Marketing, Communications and Public Affairs, Marcus Popiolek, said he does not know the exact number of classes that were canceled due to the strike. When OPB asked Wednesday afternoon, Popiolek said the people who would know were tied up in a bargaining meeting. But he said at least some of the fault for the disruption is with faculty members.

“We do know that some faculty did not let us know their intent to strike until moments before their courses were slated to start,” Popiolek said. “It seems it was their attempt to disrupt classes as much as possible.”

Faculty union and administration make legal accusations

The conflict over a new contract is also playing out behind closed doors in bargaining sessions, and increasingly, in the legal arena.


Last week, the university filed a petition with the Oregon Employment Relations Board, asking the agency to declare the then-tentative faculty strike unlawful. OIT also filed an unfair labor practice complaint against the union, claiming there were numerous instances in which the union had not bargained or acted in good faith.

On Wednesday, the faculty union accused OIT administration of hiring an outside firm that broke Oregon law. It claims the private firm, Focus EduVation, hired replacement instructors without immediately telling those substitutes that they were replacing striking professors.

Under a state statute, the union said in a statement, “replacements must be informed they are being hired to take the place of workers who are on strike or locked out.”

The faculty union said it has started a public records request to reveal how public funding was used by OIT to work with Focus EduVation.

The university claims the statute cited by the union doesn’t apply, according to OIT marketing director, Popiolek.

But Popiolek also said it is the university’s understanding that the firm did notify the substitute instructors of the strike.

“We respect the union’s statutory right to strike,” the university said. “We hope they turn their energies toward a mutually agreeable resolution, rather than their continued pursuit of side-show theatrics and unsupported allegations.”

The faculty union also said that Focus EduVation and OIT senior administration did not properly vet replacement instructors for courses in technical programs such as respiratory care, dental hygiene and laboratory sciences.

Negotiations will continue

The faculty union said negotiations are continuing throughout the strike, including at a bargaining session with the administration that began Wednesday afternoon.

The union said it is continuing to demand “fair wages, secure benefits, and a reasonable and clearly defined workload.”

Union officials released a statement over the weekend defending their latest publicized offer as a “win-win.” It said the union was going along with some portions of the administration’s proposed policies, on workload and benefits, for instance.

Most recently, OIT administration made an offer to faculty members including the potential to earn a 13% salary increase over the term of the contract; that’s “a 9.5% guaranteed across the board salary increase with the potential for faculty members to earn an additional 3.5% or possibly more based on performance and promotion,” according to the university. The university’s offers have been based on a five-year contract, though the union says the contract term has not been completely agreed upon yet.

Administration is also proposing to maintain the current level of health care, where the university pays for 95% to 97% of faculty health care plans. And, the administration said its workload proposal is similar to expectations at other colleges and universities and within other AAUP contracts.

But the faculty union said the university’s offers fall short.

“Faculty are seeking fair compensation, and the compensation plan that’s been proposed by senior administration is not fair,” the union said in a statement Tuesday night. “Senior administration is proposing a plan that eventually ties all raises to ‘merit’ and makes faculty compete against each other for a limited pool of raises. This will not solve current problems of salary stagnation and compression.”

The union has agreed to using the university’s proposed workload hour model, but it is pushing to add definitions on non-instructional workload.

Along with the picket lines at OIT’s campuses in Klamath Falls and Wilsonville, there is also an informational demonstration taking place in Salem at OIT’s Dental Hygiene Clinic at Chemeketa Community College. A virtual picket took place online Monday.