Opening day strike averted

The threat of a strike on campus in the first day of fall term evaporated Friday when service workers reached a tentative agreement with the state’s public universities.

The contract agreement remains to be ratified by both sides. The Service Employees International Union Local 503 of the Oregon Public Employees Union had specified Monday, Sept. 24, as the strike date if no agreement was reached.

The negotiations had been underway since April, but on Thursday there were signs that an agreement was near.

Bob Bruce, assistant to the vice chancellor for communications, predicted a speedy settlement in Friday negotiations.

“We’re awfully close to an agreement,” Bruce said on Thursday. A statement from the Oregon University System reporting the settlement came by mid-day Friday.

The union represents some 3,700 classified workers at Oregon’s seven public universities. The Friday settlement seems to follow closely a “final offer” submitted to the union Sept. 14 by the OUS.

The agreement covers cost-of-living wage increases across the board. It specifies fully paid health coverage for full-time employees. It also changes provisions on overtime, contracting out, layoff and union rights.

The Portland State University spokesperson for the union has been Brian O’Connell, specialist in admissions. He did not return repeated phone calls and e-mails from the Vanguard.

However, the Oregonian printed the following statement by O’Connell:

“I’m frustrated that it took this long to reach a settlement we could have reached months ago. We’re just happy to have a fair contract for our workers.” The SEIU represents clerical, paraprofessional, skilled trades and service personnel at Oregon’s seven public universities.

The tentative agreement provides a two percent cost-of-living wage increase or a flat $40 on Jan. 1, 2002. It includes a three percent increase on Feb. 1, 2003, plus continuing annual step increases. For 23 selected job classifications, there will be selective salary increases.

The union had asked for a 3.32 percent wage increase for each of the two years of the contract. The union also had proposed a base salary of $9.50 per hour. Neither request fully materialized.

A compromise appears to have been reached on the issue of health coverage. A proposed one-month effective delay in charges may ease out-of-pocket charges for employees. Part-time workers are set to receive pro-rated health coverage.

Speaking for OUS, Tom Anderes, vice chancellor for finance and administration, said, “We are pleased that a settlement has been reached. It’s a settlement that provides both salary and health benefit improvement for all classified employees and their families.”

Cynthia Beckwith, chief negotiator for OUS, said, “The next step is ratification by both parties. We are hopeful of a quick ratification.” O’Connell, the union representative, told the Oregonian that the union expects members to ratify the settlement this week.

In addition to Portland State, the institutions covered by the agreement are Eastern Oregon University, LaGrande; Oregon Institute of Technology, Klamath Falls; Oregon State University, Corvallis; University of Oregon, Eugene; Southern Oregon University, Ashland and Western Oregon University, Monmouth.