Contract negotiations continue between the union representing thousands of university employees and management at Oregon’s seven public universities as the possibility of a strike on Sept. 30 gets closer.
The parties planned two days of negotiations with a mediator this week. But representatives from Service Employees International Union Local 503 did not show up to the table the second day, citing the need for a pause after tense negotiations Monday.
“We didn’t feel like – with what they gave us back on Monday night – we had a place to move forward,” said barging team chair and Portland State University employee Rob Fullmer.
Workers want a higher cost of living increase. The union proposes a 6.25% increase over two years. The universities propose a 4.25% increase.
SEIU said that over the last 10 years, cost of living increases in Portland-Salem are a cumulative 9 percentage points higher than the increases Oregon higher education workers have received.
For lower paid workers, Fullmer said, that difference is felt.
“For them to get cost of living adjustments that are below inflation once they’ve reached the top of the salary range means that their buying power is going down and their ability to make ends meet is compromised,” Fullmer said.
According to a representative for the seven universities, classified staff annual wages range from $25,000 to more than $100,000.
Proposals also differ when it comes to employees who have reached the top of the pay scale.
Fullmer, an IT specialist at Portland State University, said he reached the top “step” of his salary in 2011. Because of that, he said, the only increases in pay he has received since then have been cost of living adjustments.
The universities proposed a $850 one-time bonus for employees like Fullmer; SEIU proposes creating an additional “step” at the top and removing the bottom step.
The two groups will meet Thursday afternoon for another bargaining session at Oregon Institute of Technology’s Wilsonville campus.
The universities are preparing for a possible strike by redeploying unclassified staff and bringing in temporary workers. But in a statement, the spokesperson for the universities say they are optimistic a settlement will be reached.
“We hope we can be a united front welcoming our students back to our campuses on Sept. 30,” Di Saunders, a spokesperson for the universities, said.
Fullmer agrees. But he wants to see a contract he can support first.
“I’m going to be really annoyed if I’m out holding a picket sign on Monday,” Fullmer said. “We’ll continue to fight until we get an offer from management that we think is fair.”