On September 17, higher education employees in Oregon voted to authorize a strike, with an overwhelming 95 percent in favor. Currently, it appears a strike could come as early as Monday.
According to a release from the union, SEIU 503, university management has only offered to raise COLAs to 2.25 percent. Classified staff at Oregon’s public universities are asking for a 3 percent Cost of Living Adjustment (COLA) in 2019, a 3.25 percent COLA in 2020, regular increases on the step pay scale system, as well as a new top step and more equitable inclement weather policy.
The union says the strike will begin on September 30 at 7 a.m. if negotiations between university management and SEIU 503 have not reached a satisfactory conclusion.
Approximately 4,500 people work as classified staff at Oregon’s universities, including custodians, groundskeepers, security officers, librarians, and clerical and food service workers. According to SEIU 503, university staff are paid 10 percent less than other public sector workers.
Here’s the Sticking Point
Public university workers in Oregon are paid according to a ten-step pay scale. Entry level employees starting at step one, get an advancement of one step every year, which is equal to a 4.75 percent increase in wages.
Cost of Living Adjustments are meant to maintain the value of the steps, but university COLAs have not kept up with the rising Consumer Price Index — a gap of 9 percent has developed over a decade. Thus, employees are asking for a new top step and a 3 percent COLA to make up for this loss of purchasing power.
Another point of contention are university inclement weather policies. Currently, classified workers are required to use leave or vacation time during weather closures, while management is not, as they are considered to be on a “professional work week.” SEIU 503 wants the same policy for workers that management has, citing the current one as disrespectful.