Student services workers move closer to strike

By Dick Mason, The Observer September 13, 2013 01:06 pm
Oregon University System workers who provide student services, including the approximately 120 employed at Eastern Oregon University, are a big step closer to striking. 

A statewide strike authorization vote was overwhelmingly approved this week by the members of Service Employees International Union Local 503, the union representing OUS student services workers. The union has 4,500 members, including approximately 120 at EOU. 

The strike authorization vote was conducted Monday through Wednesday. 

The SEIU bargaining team, after votes were tallied, notified the OUS late Wednesday of its intent to strike. This means that SEIU student services workers could strike as early as Sept. 23. 

“All of us are still hoping that we can come to an agreement so that we do not have to strike. I don’t think anybody wants to strike. We need to reach an agreement we all can live with,” said Bud Hill, president of the EOU chapter of SEIU Local 503. 

Contract talks between bargaining teams for the student services workers and the OUS management team have stalled because of disagreements concerning wages, benefits and contract language. 

OUS students services workers have not received a pay increase in about five years. The OUS is offering a base pay increase but it is below what the union is requesting. Marc Nisenfeld, president of SEIU Local 503, sounded frustrated Thursday afternoon and spoke like a strike is a real possibility. 

“We haven’t seen any indication that management wants to settle. Withholding labor is the only weapon we have,” said Nisenfeld, who works for Portland State University.

Melody Rose, interim chancellor of the Oregon University System, is optimistic that a settlement will be reached and a strike avoided.

“We are continuing to bargain and are hopeful that a resolution can be reached,” Rose said Thursday afternoon.

Rose, however, is prepared for the worst, including a strike running at least through Sept. 30, the first day of classes on OUS campuses. 

“If a resolution does not prove possible our campuses are fully prepared for a strike. We will make sure that all classes start on time and all services continue to be offered until a resolution is found,” she said.