BEND, OR -- In about a month, students will be heading back to school at Oregon's public universities, but labor negotiations for some university employees has reached an impasse.
Rob Fullmer, SEIU 503 Representative, told Central Oregon Daily, giving workers cost of living increases isn't good enough. "Our members are feeling like that the offers they are getting from management in this contract, which are comparable to what we saw in the last contract, aren’t enough to be able to make ends meet." But, Vice President of University Relations for Oregon State University, Steve Clark, says they're hopeful a solution can be found that won't raise tuition costs. "We are optimistic. We continue to be optimistic that we can find common ground that will serve both these valuable employees and avert a strike."
Final offers from both sides were presented Friday to the Oregon Employment Relations Board, but the University workers have rejected the University's offer. The workers affected by this include custodians, food service, information technology, and nurses. The current annual compensation for these 5,000 employees ranges from $33,000 to $141,000, averaging $57,000 pay, plus benefits.
According to Clark, they need to find a balance that works for everyone. "We need to find a common ground that not only serves our employees but also our financial ability to educate students of Oregon without causing more cuts in operational expenditures and higher tuition." But Fullmer says 'the other side' talks about 12% increases, but not to anyone who's topped out the wage system, and he says that's more than 1/4 of University workers. "The only compensation increase we see is the cost of living increase and 1% COLA isn’t going to cut it." Clark says, "That’s why negotiations occur is to understand what are the differences that are being put forth, and to understand the needs of both the union members and the universities. That’s why we negotiate."
The Union's current proposal would take more than half the $100 million recently granted the Universities by the Legislature to help with tuition costs and employee pensions. Both sides say they don't want to strike, but are prepared to do so.