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PSU Faculty Set Strike Authorization Vote

Just as the Portland school board approved an agreement ending worry about a teachers’ strike in the state’s largest K-12 school district, the possibility of a strike is flaring up at Oregon’s largest university.

The Portland State University faculty scheduled a strike authorization vote for next week. That announcement came after both sides submitted their “final” contract offers Monday.

PSU professor Randy Blazak

PSU professor Randy Blazak

Rob Manning/OPB

Hundreds of students and professors streamed onto the park blocks at Portland State last week. They were rallying on the faculty’s side in a contract dispute with administrators.

Randy Blazak has taught sociology at PSU for almost twenty years.

 “I’ve never seen the faculty more ready to strike. I mean they are so alienated, and sort of dissatisfied with how they’ve been treated by the administration. That - we could strike tomorrow, I feel like everybody’s ready to go, because it’s now or never. We want to stop the erosion of higher ed, and this is our attempt to do it,” Blazak said.

PSU junior, Lydia Grijalva passed out cookies at the rally.

PSU junior, Lydia Grijalva passed out cookies at the rally.

Rob Manning/OPB

Faculty sentiment will be tested March 11 and 12, when the American Association of University Professors at PSU will hold a strike vote.

Talks are in a cooling-off period, so faculty couldn’t actually strike until next month.

The faculty union and administrators filed their final offers late Monday.

Three of the biggest sticking points have been around faculty compensation, the length of contracts for professors who don’t have tenure, and the union’s role in university policy.

Scott Gallagher with Portland State University says the administration offer presents faculty with a choice: more compensation or more say in making policy.

The first option according to Gallagher is, “a four percent raise over two years, continuing the health care and pension benefits that the AAUP members currently have, but some clarification of the contract terms around policy making and governance.”

The other option is a smaller raise, the same benefits but more favorable policy language. Gallagher says PSU has a budget hole, and spending too much on faculty will wind up costing students.

“So, any time there is a discussion around salary and compensation, it directly affects the cost of tuition and that’s a big concern for us.”

The faculty’s final offer includes a complicated salary scale aimed at bridging inequities. The union also wants multi-year contracts after four years at PSU. The administration would offer them after five or six years, and not necessarily to every eligible professor.

Both sides say they’re looking out for the welfare of students.

Faculty members argue the university has to offer longer-term contracts and sufficient compensation, to keep and attract the kinds of professors students expect.

PSU junior, Lydia Grijalva was dodging rain drops at last week’s rally, handing out fliers and cookies.

PSU international students Hamoud Alotaibi and Ray Zou.

PSU international students Hamoud Alotaibi and Ray Zou.

Rob Manning/OPB

“Well, basically, we want to be able to be going to a school that supports teachers, because their working conditions are our learning conditions,” Grijalva said.

But not all the students at the rally were unflinching faculty supporters.

Ray Zou is an international student from China. He’s asking for balance.

“I don’t want to see something like, either a strike, or they’re paid less, or ask students to pay more about their education. We’ve already paid a lot of money on our education,” Zou said.

Ray Zou doesn’t want to see a faculty strike, but he and his friends from overseas sounded impressed by the rally.

Hamoud Alotaibi is a PSU student from Saudi Arabia.

“This is a newer thing for me here, I am learning from Americans, how they fight for their freedoms. So, I like it,” Alotaibi said.

Administrators say PSU would stay open if the faculty did strike. But officials say they haven’t drafted a strike plan - and hope they won’t need one.