Recently, we celebrated Martin Luther King, Jr.’s birthday. He was killed during 1968. I was only eight years old at the time, and even at that age I knew why he was in Memphis. The garbage workers there weren’t being treated fairly. They were mostly African-American, and they were a unionized work force. I can’t tell you if I knew what the word union meant at that age, but I knew people were being mistreated by their employer, and they were Black people, like me.
I knew something was wrong, and I hoped Dr. King would make things right. Unfortunately, the struggle cost him his life. Standing up for justice, equality, and fair wages for everyone can require great sacrifice. I’m sure Martin Luther King, Jr. experienced many scary nights, but his desire to fight for fairness and justice was stronger than any fear he felt.
Union brothers and sisters, we classified workers at the seven Oregon universities face a challenge. It’s not what Dr. King faced, but it is significant. We enter contract negotiations while the state and the University of Oregon face sizable financial difficulties.
- What makes a fair and equitable contract?
- What amount should a pay increase be to offset the rising cost of living?
- Would you accept paying for a bigger share of your health insurance premium?
- Should the step structure for annual merit increases remain the same?
- Can we support changes to the IT compensation plan?
- Should food service workers have to pay more to eat the food they prepare and serve?
These questions are in the survey that our SEIU bargaining team launched recently. We’ll use your answers to determine our union’s priorities in contract negotiations, so tell us what’s most important to you. Complete your survey by Wednesday, February 15.
We’ll pass out hard copies of the survey soon for those without easy access to a computer. As we move forward in our fight for fair wages, I think you should know about some of what’s going on at other Oregon universities. Oregon State University is scheduled to provide its management staff with a 6 percent wage increase and it has been rumored that Oregon Tech will propose a 4 percent increase for their managers. I’m not sure how much the UO is going to offer its Officers of Administration, but I expect it will be more than the 2.25 percent you and I received in December. I mention this, because the universities bargain together as a coordinated group, and there has already been talk about their not having any money for classified workers.
Many of us worked hard on Ballot Measure 97 to try to boost the state’s revenue, but big business fought back with an expensive ad campaign and defeated it. So, right now, it is not clear what level of funding state legislators will make available for higher education.
The way I see it, if the universities need to make any cuts, they ought to start with their management staff. For years, our universities have been top-heavy; there are too many managers and not enough front-line workers. That’s why our union has repeatedly tried to get the state to reduce the ratio of managers to workers in higher education just like they did in the Department of Administrative Services.
Our contract bargaining will definitely be a challenge this year. Before it’s over, I expect we will be threatened with layoffs and cuts to our wages and benefits. In order to overcome this challenge, we are all going to need to get involved and work together. I hope you are ready to join me in this fight!
Submissions due February 15