September 12, 2001 11:00 pm

By Dick Mason

Observer Staff Writer

With a possible strike five days away, members of Eastern Oregon Universitys classified staff were encouraged by the responses they received during an informational picket Wednesday.

About two dozen classified staff members participated in the picket between 11:30 a.m. and 1 p.m. They carried signs and distributed information along Sixth Street near the Eastern campus, explaining their side of a contract dispute. The negotiations involve the states 3,700 classified workers in the Oregon University System.

Drivers honked to show support Wednesday, said Jan Abeita, an electronic resources specialist at Easterns library.

We are hoping people understand all we want is equal treatment, Abeita said.

He said university classified staff workers want a contract equal to the one recently received by the classified staff workers for Oregons Department of Administrative Services.

Negotiations between the Oregon University System and the Oregon Public Employees Union, which the university classified staff workers belong to, have been at impasse for more than a month.

Last week the university classified staff workers voted overwhelmingly to give its bargaining unit authorization to strike. The bargaining team has set Monday as a strike date if an agreement is not reached.

The classified employees are seeking wage increases of 3.23 percent for each of the next two years and fully paid health insurance.

The Oregon University System is offering wage increases of 2 percent each of the next two years and to cover a portion of the employees increase in health insurance premiums. OUS classified staff workers have fully paid health insurance.

The OUS is offering to pay the complete health insurance premiums for classified staff employees who make less than $30,000 a year. The OUS is proposing that everyone making more than $30,000 each year pay 25 percent of the increase in their health insurance premiums over the next two years.

Abeita said this proposal would treat employees unequally and penalize the most dedicated employees.

EOU has about 130 classified employees. The employee group include custodians, grounds and facilities maintenance staff and clerical support staff.