United Academics University of Oregon, an 1,800 member union of education employees, recently announced that it reached a tentative agreement with the University of Oregon on its first collective bargaining contract. Members will vote on the agreement on October 8.
The union, whose members include tenured and non-tenured faculty, adjuncts, graduate teaching assistants, librarians, and other education staff, called the agreement historic because it gives education staff a stronger voice in decisions that affect their work.
“We organized as a union because faculty at the University of Oregon want a voice and a vote on the important policies that affect our work,” said Deborah Olson, a member of the United Academics bargaining team. “This agreement achieves that.”
Meanwhile classified staff–campus workers including maintenance, clerical, advisory and other staff who make education possible–at Oregon’s seven public universities have said that they will strike on September 30, the first day of classes, unless their union, SEIU Local 503, and the Oregon University System agree on a new contract that raises wages and addresses the imbalance between the growing number of campus administrators and students and campus workers.
“Classified employees have endured cuts, furloughs and step freezes. None of these sacrifices have been shared by administrators,” said Mark Nisenfeld, chair of the Local 503 bargaining team, to College Classes. “We want them to recognize that sacrifice and bring our members up to what they deserve.”
The tentative agreement between United Academics, which is affiliated with the American Federation of Teachers and the American Association of University Professors, raises salaries by an average of 11.75 percent over two years, extends job security for contingent faculty, makes career path and promotions rules more transparent, guarantees a voice in campus governance for all education staff, and provides “robust” protection of freedom of speech and academic freedom.
UO administrators attempted to insert language in the new contract that interfered with faculty freedom of speech and academic freedom.
The administration sought to include a so-called civility clause in the contract that could have been used to discipline faculty who criticize administrators or their policies, to restrict faculty work with outside organizations such as non-profits, including those that may be critical of UO benefactors, to monitor faculty computer use including university and non-university e-mail accounts, and to claim ownership of faculty work such as inventions and course material.
Corey Robin , a blogger and professor at Brooklyn College and the Graduate Center of the City University of New York, made these administration demands public generating a flood of email to UO President Michael Gottfredson.
The administration subsequently relented on its demands.
Local 503 wants a contract that sets a wage floor of $2,500 a month for all classified employees, provides a 5 percent cost of living wage over two years with a minimum raise of $75 a month, and protects the current wage progression ladder.
“Thirty percent of the SEIU members employed at the Oregon University System earn less than $2,495 per month,” said Nisenfeld. “(That) level. . . qualifies a family of four to receive food stamps.”
Nisenfeld also said that OUS wants to extend the period of time it takes for workers to reach their maximum salary, which is currently ten years. OUS wants to extend that time to 18 years.
Local 503 also is concerned that too much of the universities’ resources are going to administrators rather than to students and workers.
“At Portland State University, the ratio of administrators to students has skyrocketed, while the classified and faculty ratios have dropped,” said Nisenfeld citing one example. “The classified and faculty have day-to-day contact with students, yet the number of classified employees in the registrar’s office, financial aid and lab assistants has dropped dramatically.”
Some progress has been made during the mediated negotiations, which led to the postponement of a strike that was to begin on September 22.
But progress has bogged down.
During the last bargaining session on September 18 about 100 people occupied the University of Oregon president’s office to demonstrate support for the workers.
Negotiations are scheduled to resume on September 25.
The seven schools that will be affected by the strike are Eastern Oregon University in LaGrande, Oregon Institute of Technology in Klamath Falls, Oregon State University, Portland State University, Southern Oregon University in Ashland, University of Oregon, and Western Oregon University in Monmouth.