Strike photo

Members of the Eastern Oregon University chapter of SEIU Local 503, the union representing classified staff workers, participate in an on-campus rally Aug. 5.

Eastern Oregon University officials and the school’s classified staff workers can breathe a sigh of relief, for it appears a strike has been narrowly averted. 

Bargaining teams from Oregon’s seven public universities and the SEIU-represented classified employees union reached a tentative agreement on a two-year labor contract Saturday. Had a settlement not been reached over the weekend, the state’s 4,500 classified staff employees, including about 130 at Eastern, would have gone on strike today. 

The workers had voted on Sept. 17 to go on strike Sept. 30 if an agreement on a new contract had not been reached. The contract, if ratified by a vote of classified staff employees, will provide a total of 5.1% in cost of living increases over the next year. Employees will receive a 3% cost of living increase retroactive to July 1 of this year and a 2.1% cost of living increase effective July 1, 2020, according to information provided by a spokesperson for the Oregon’s public universities.

Classified staff employees will also receive full step wage increases of 4.75% in each year of the contract. This applies to the more than 70% of classified employees who are not already at the top step of their wage scale, which takes 10 years to reach. Employees receive step increases each year for satisfactory or better performance. 

A longevity premium of 2.5% will be given yearly to classified employees who have “topped out” and no longer qualify for step wage increases, if they have been at the university at least five years and have been at the top of their salary schedule for at least a year. 

Health care, pension, holidays, vacations, sick leave, personal leave and bereavement benefits would remain as they are in 2017-19 contract for classified staff.

Classified staff are student services employees, such as custodians, carpenters, plumbers, office specialists, information technology specialists and heating, air conditioning and ventilation specialists.

EOU Strike

Members of the Eastern Oregon University chapter of SEIU Local 503, the union representing student services workers, participate in a rally Aug 5.

Tim Seydel, EOU’s vice president for university advancement, said he and many others are very encouraged that there is a tentative agreement.

“Everyone at EOU is very happy and relieved that a settlement has been reached,” Seydel said. “These (classified staff) employees are valuable to Eastern. It would have been challenging to start the year without them.”

Seydel said he was impressed with the work people on both sides of the negotiations did during the bargaining.

“They are to be commended for their commitment to the process,” Seydel said. 

Jo Hickerson, president of EOU’s SEIU 503 chapter, also has positive feelings about the settlement.

“I think it is a good and fair settlement. We are very, very happy that we came to an agreement before we had to strike,’’ Hickerson said.  

Had there been a strike today, it would have been the first by the classified staff at Oregon’s public universities since 1995. 

SEIU members will vote on ratification of the 2019-21 contract in October. 

The presidents of Oregon’s seven public universities released a statement Saturday that reads:

“As we welcome students back in the new academic year, we are pleased that we have a tentative agreement in place with our SEIU-represented classified workers, who play an important role in the education of more than 120,000 Oregon public university students. Our university classified employees are respected colleagues who are vital to the operation of our universities and the diverse student services each campus provides.

“We are deeply appreciative of the dedication these employees demonstrate every day in their jobs on our university campuses. Their work makes an enormous difference in the education and lives of our students, as well as the research and community services that Oregon universities provide throughout the state.”

General assignment reporter

Beats include the communities of North Powder, Imbler, Island City and Union, education, Union County veterans programs and local history. Dick joined The Observer in 1983, first working as a sports and outdoors reporter.

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