August 10, 2001 11:00 pm

By The Observer

Eastern Oregon Universitys approximately 130 classified staff employees may be breathing easier later this month.

The reason? There is a good chance that the stalled contract negotiations between the Oregon Public Employees Unions bargaining unit for university classified staff and the Oregon University System will pick up.

I am confident and hopeful that a resolution will soon be reached, said Steve Wadner, a stationary engineer at EOU and its OPEU bargaining delegate.

The OPEU and the OUS are negotiating a two-year wage and benefit contract covering the 3,700 classified staff employees in the Oregon University System. An impasse was declared earlier this week because little progress had been made in negotiations.

Wadner said that the gulf between the OPEU and the OUS is not as great as it appears.

The OPEU is requesting that the OUS boost classified staff salaries by 3 percent each of the next two years and continue covering the complete cost of employees health insurance premiums.

The OUSs offer would provide no pay increase and no increase in what it pays for insurance premiums over the next two years.

Wadner noted though that the OUSs offer was made in May, before the OUS knew how much money it would receive for salary and benefit increases in the 2001-2003 biennium.

Wadner is confident that the OUS will improve its offer after it determines how much money it will receive from the state. The total is now being determined.

OUS spokesperson Bob Bruce is also hopeful that a better offer can be made.

They (the OUS classified employees) are entitled to increases, Bruce said.

Bruce said that negotiations have dragged because the Oregon Legislatures 2001 session ran to July 7.

The extended session has slowed negotiations, said Bruce, the OUSs assistant vice chancellor for communications.

The OPEUs university employees are beginning the third year of a four-year contract. A reopener clause stipulates that at the end of two years, salaries, benefits and and up to five other contract items can be negotiated.

The declaration of the impasse on Aug. 6 means that both parties must submit requests and offers by Monday. The cost of what the OPEU is requesting and the cost of what OUS is offering must be listed.

Negotiation sessions are scheduled for Aug. 22 and 27. Should negotiations continue to stall, OPEU employees could strike. The earliest they could strike would be mid September.