Faculty union OKs contract for higher pay

Union members voted an overwhelming 84 percent to approve a contract drafted by their bargaining committee, which will raise PSU professors’ salary 8 percent across the board. A 5 percent raise will go into effect immediately for 12-month employees, with a further 3 percent raise next year.

“We need to get the message to the state legislature how much higher education needs funding,” said Julia Getchell, PSU Chapter Coordinator for the American Association of University Professors, the union that represents full-time faculty members at Portland State.

PSU continues to be in the lowest 10 percent nationally for university instructor salaries. This causes an issue in retaining quality educators at the state’s largest and fastest-growing university.

“Faculty morale is, frankly, pretty bad,” Getchell said. “Faculty working conditions really affect the learning environment.”

This is the first pay increase for professors since a salary freeze imposed on all state employees in 2003. Since that time, cost of living in Oregon has risen 6.7 percent.

“This 8 percent increase brings us back to where we were, once we take inflation into account,” said Sy Adler, PSU AAUP chapter president, and professor of urban studies and planning. “I think it was a good agreement, given the circumstances under which we were negotiating, and the relative resources available from the state legislature. The agreement was about as good as we were able to get.”

The contract also includes a risk-sharing agreement for health coverage. If health insurance premiums rise more than 14 percent in the next year, faculty will forgo 1.25 percent of the 8 percent increase. While health insurance premiums may be raised unexpected amounts, an increase greater than 10 percent is unanticipated.

“I don’t think it’s likely that we’re going to lose any of that percent this time,” Adler said. “But I do think it’s likely that the university will come back in the next round of negotiations and expect us to continue sharing this risk. That’s a great concern to members of the Bargaining Committee.”

The contract was written and negotiated by the AAUP Bargaining Committee, headed by Martha Hickey, Vice President of Collective Bargaining. Her position expires, and nominations for her replacement are currently being accepted. The vice president and bargaining committee are key positions for creating contract improvements when negotiations begin again in spring of 2007.

“Martha Hickey and the rest of the bargaining team are miracle workers,” said John Hall, Professor of Economics at PSU and AAUP union member. “We as faculty are extremely thankful for their dedication, hard work and time spent in negotiations, which are the source of our betterment.”

High levels of participation and support from students and faculty members were defining features in the success in this campaign. At least 400 students signed letters of support to send to PSU President Daniel Bernstine, while large numbers of faculty members became actively involved in the negotiations.

“We will be raising questions constantly on how the university allocates its resources,” Adler said, speaking of the future of PSU instructors’ campaign. “We’re also going to be very active in the state legislature.”

He added that student support for faculty is most important in the further success of this campaign.