Higher ed workers weigh new agreement

2009-09-09T05:45:00Z Higher ed workers weigh new agreementBy Raju Woodward, Gazette-Times Corvallis Gazette Times
September 09, 2009 5:45 am  • 

For now, at least, Oregon State University's 1,200 classified workers won't be striking.

The Oregon University System and Service Employees International Union Local 503 reached an agreement on a new contract late Friday night, ending eight months of bargaining.

"It took longer than we had hoped," said Rick Hampton, the director of labor relations for the Oregon University System. "It was very important that we got it done now because we have faculty bargaining that needs to get done before school starts."

Maggie Neel, president of SEIU Local 083, the union branch that covers OSU, said she's very happy an agreement was reached. As of last week, workers at all seven universities in the state higher education system were ready to walk off the job.

"We weren't looking to strike," Neel said. "And while we weren't thrilled with some of the concessions we made, we knew we needed to be here for the students. Without us, the schools don't run."

The contract proposal, which still must be ratified by a vote of covered employees, includes significant austerity measures to help the state weather the recession.

Under the new two-year deal, classified employees would have to take between eight and 16 days of unpaid furlough, depending on their salaries. Hampton said the idea behind this is to ease the burden on the lowest-paid employees and place more responsibility on the higher-paid ones.

There would also be no cost-of-living adjustments and no salary increases until Sept. 10, 2010, unless an employee is reclassified or promoted.

While there have been wage freezes before, Neel said, this is the first time OSU's classified employees would be required to take unpaid furlough days.

The agreement is similar to one SEIU Local 503 reached with Gov. Ted Kulongoski six weeks ago for workers at other state agencies.

Neel said the union is going to do its best to complete the ratification process by Oct. 16. The union plans to hold informational meetings to educate its members on the new contract agreement before the ballots go out.

"I know some of the employees won't be happy," Neel said. "But I think they do a good job of understanding that there is no money out there for our budget."

Neel said she hopes the union's members will vote in the new agreement because it will prevent cuts to staffs that are already stretched thin. Saving jobs was one of the main sticking points of the agreement.

"Why did we ask for unpaid furlough and pay freezes? We did it to save jobs," Hampton said. "We don't want to have to lay anyone off unless it's absolutely necessary. This crosses across all employees. We want to preserve as many jobs as we can."

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