We’re in For Some Tough Bargaining Financial Negotiations Began Jan. 3

SEIU 503 085 UO monthly membership meeting

SEIU 503–085 UO Vice President and Chief Bargaining Delegate Johnny Earl speaks to people who are union members about upcoming budget discussions with the universities. The monthly membership meeting was in the Erb Memorial Union, Wednesday, December 14.

Union sisters and brothers, the higher education bargaining clock officially started January 3. We exchanged written proposals with the University Shared Services Enterprise, which bargains on behalf of the seven Oregon state universities.

This time, we bargain solely over economic issues and plan to focus on eight specific contract articles and one letter of agreement.

  • Article 20: Differentials
  • Article 21: Salary
  • Article 22: Salary Administration
  • Article 24: Insurance
  • Article 39: Personal Leave
  • Article 40: Sick leave
  • Article 42: Holidays
  • Article 66: IT Compensation Plan
  • The letter of agreement affects meal costs for Food Service and some University Housing workers.

Through USSE, the universities decided against implementing a changed worker classification system. Previously, we assumed that we would bargain for worker pay in that new system; that is off the table, for now.

The universities wrote an email to classified workers during early December with an explanation of their decision against moving forward with the new classifications. They cited one reason was a lack of agreement with the union to replace the current step system with merit-based pay in advance of negotiations. That is true, and we made that decision for several reasons.

  1. We were willing to bargain over how raises would occur, but we weren’t willing to give up the step system before bargaining even began.
  2. After four years of preparation, we still didn’t know all the specifics regarding how USSE’s proposed merit-based pay system would work.
  3. Our IT workers already have experience with a merit-type system and they have had some real problems with it. Superior performance isn’t always determined fairly or even rewarded at all when budgets are tight, they report.

We haven’t sent out the bargaining survey yet, since the full contract isn’t open for negotiations, so we don’t have a complete sense of what is important to you, our members. Expect the survey via postal mail during January.

These will be very difficult negotiations. As most of you know, the state of Oregon is in dire financial straits. There is a $1.7 billion deficit during the next fiscal period just to maintain the current level of state services. Governor Kate Brown proposed a budget with flat funding for higher education; the universities get the same amount they were given in the previous budget, essentially a budget cut. Legislators will respond with their own budget soon and then spend about six months hammering out a final budget with the governor. There are two driving forces behind the budget shortfall: the increasing cost of Medicaid and the unfunded liability in the Public Employees Retirement System.

The failure of Ballot Measure 97 made it exponentially more difficult to find the extra revenue needed to prevent budget cuts in higher education and many other state programs.

On the topic of extra revenue, the University of Oregon’s decision to charge student workers in food service for eating the food they help prepare and serve is mean-spirited. Many of those students sought jobs in food service specifically to ensure that they can eat at least one decent meal during work. With the cost of tuition increasing, they have less money for food each year. Now, UO managers are focused on increasing meal costs for classified food service workers; they are among the lowest-paid workers in the university system; most don’t have the extra $600 that University Housing wants from them to eat the food they help prepare. Let’s not forget that during recent years, administrator salaries increased more and more quickly than classified wages by a wide margin.

We also face a challenge from Johnson Hall in the form of a proposed policy that would place severe restrictions on our right to free speech on campus. It essentially tells each one of us to be quiet, don’t complain, and don’t have any labor rallies without scheduling them first. The UO wants to know the time, date and location of any “free speech activities” campus organizations plan, and they would have the right to disapprove if proper arrangements aren’t made. In other words, keep quiet. Be silent as the cost of your health benefits becomes more then you can afford. Be silent when there is no cost-of-living increase for you, but the Officers of Administration receive one.

Just because the state’s contribution to our funding decreased significantly doesn’t mean we need to change the way the university administration treats the citizens of this community, which is you and me. I refuse to be silent. Let the bargaining begin. Hold on to your seat.

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SEIU Local 085