Classified employees at Oregon State University — the secretaries, food service workers, physical plant operators and other support staff — say they’re getting left behind economically and could go on strike if they don’t get a better contract.

About three dozen people attended a “unity lunch” Monday under the glass roof of the Student Experience Center Plaza hosted by the Service Employees International Union, which represents about 4,500 employees statewide and more than 1,500 at OSU.

Workers signed petitions, munched submarine sandwiches and sipped cold drinks in the stifling heat and listened to union officials talk about the need for unity as the bargaining team prepares for the next round of contract negotiations, set for early next month in Bend. Depending on how those talks go, SEIU officials said, they might call for a strike vote by the rank and file.

“We are trying to garner support to get a fair contract from OSU,” said union member Gabrielle Fecteau, who works as an office specialist in the Department of Fisheries and Wildlife.

The state’s current contract offer, she said, is so stingy that it amounts to a salary cut.

“What it comes down to is a decrease in our contracts,” she said, “and we can’t afford it.”

Since March, the union has been bargaining with representatives of Oregon’s seven public universities over economic terms of their current four-year contract under a “reopener” clause. The contract expires on June 30, 2019.

But the state is playing hardball with an offer that includes a 0.5 percent cost-of-living adjustment, a freeze in step increases and higher employee health insurance costs, and workers are getting frustrated, according to Siobahn Burke, a campus organizer for the union.

“They’re very unhappy about it,” she said.

OSU Local President Leonora Rianda, who works as an office specialist in the Ethnic Studies and Women, Gender and Sexuality Studies departments, said classified employees at OSU haven’t walked off the job since 1985, but she believes they will if the state’s negotiators don’t come back with a better contract offer.

“From what I hear from our bargaining people, management is not moving,” Rianda said.

“We keep saying we’re not going to take a cut in pay,” she added, and under the proposed contract “we’ll be taking home less money.”

But university spokesman Steve Clark countered that there is still a lot of bargaining left to be done and plenty of time to cut a deal that would be amenable to both sides.

“Any talk of a strike at this time is premature as the parties to this agreement have not ended their negotiations and are, in fact, meeting Aug. 7 and 8 with a mediator from the state of Oregon,” said Clark, OSU’s vice president for marketing and university relations. “We are planning to attend that meeting and engage in good faith negotiations and expect that is also the intention of the SEIU.”

Reporter Bennett Hall can be reached at 541-758-9529 or bennett.hall@lee.net. Follow him on Twitter at @bennetthallgt.

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Special Projects Editor, Corvallis Gazette-Times and Albany Democrat-Herald

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