The two-year labor contract of classified employees at public Oregon universities, including SOU, has been settled. The new contract, which was settled Sept. 28, covers 4,500 classified employees who are represented by the Service Employees International Union. Negotiations started in February.
David Raco and Barbara Henson are classified employees at Southern Oregon University and represent SEIU. Raco doubles as a computing coordinator in the IT department and President of SEIU 503 Sublocal 84. Henson works as the division assistant for the Department of Humanities and Culture, and is Vice President of Sublocal 84.
“We’re in a bargaining unit with all the other staff at the seven total public universities in Oregon,” said Raco.
“So when we negotiate our contract, it’s bargaining delegates that each local elects…and then they negotiate with representatives from each of the seven universities…there’s a spokesperson for each bargaining team in addition to that. They get together and negotiate the contract.”
Joe Mosley, SOU’s Director of Community and Media Relations, explained the roles of SEIU members on campus.
“The classified employees are non-salaried employees,” Mosley said. “They have important roles on campus. It can range from working on the grounds crew or custodian or being an office assistant or graphic designer.”
Henson, the Sublocal Vice President, said “Our campus public safety officers are classified, the nurses in the health and wellness center are classified, admissions, enrollment services, the service center, financial aid…we’re very involved in every aspect, and often times we’re the front line people.”
Classified staff at Oregon’s public universities get compensation increases through two means. They receive performance (step-wage) increases for 10 years after they are hired, and a Cost of Living Adjustment. COLAs are in place to offset inflation.
“What we’re stuck on right now is we’re talking about three percent COLAs. In the last two years we took one percent,” Raco said.
Di Saunders, of the University Shared Services Enterprise, is the spokesperson for Oregon’s public universities for collective bargaining.
Saunders described the elements that the universities have to balance when reaching a negotiation. “We do have three different sets of employees, and we also have our main stakeholder as the students… Whenever we’re using student tuition to pay for things we really have to think hard about that,” she explained.
“Before any call to strike, there is a vote of all the members…ours did pass by over 95 percent of the staff,” said Henson. “Nobody really wants to get to the strike. Even though staff have voted for it, it’s so we can get a fair contract.”
On Sept. 18, these negotiations converged to the union serving the universities with a notice of intent to strike.
With the notice of intent served, SOU’s campus braced for a potential strike.
“There should not be any lasting or even temporary effect on students,” Mosley said. “Hopefully students will barely notice this is going on except for the fact that there will be people picketing.”
According to Henson, “The classes are still meeting, faculty will still be there. There will be an impact felt. We won’t be there to help with some of the situations.”
“The consequences,” Raco said, “if we don’t draw a hard line somewhere and stand up for that economic justice, is you have problems with morale over time, you have problems with retention.”
“We do see ourselves as embedded in a much larger overall labor movement,” he added, “that we see pushing back against wealth and income inequality in this country.”
On Sept. 28, a settlement was reached, and a strike was averted. SEIU employees settled for a contract that includes a 5.1 percent COLA and a 9.5 percent step-wage increase, both over two years.
Implementation of the new contract occurs in November.