OUS, union agreement averts staff strike

An agreement reached Monday between the Oregon University System and a union representing University staff averted a strike by the employees that could have hindered the start of the school year.

The Service Employees International Union Local 503 represents employees referred to in OUS parlance as classified staff: office workers, librarians, law enforcement, food and housing workers, custodians and other on-campus general service workers.

The tentative two-year settlement includes full coverage of benefits for the first year. Both the OUS and the SEIU claimed victory in the negotiations.

“We ended up in the right place for both parties,” Rick Hampton, OUS director of labor relations and bargaining team adviser, said. “It was successful to the extent that the classified employees will share the burden on a more progressive basis.”

Deanna Berglund, a chief bargaining representative for the University of Oregon on the SEIU team, was also positive about the solution.

“Considering the current economic crisis, we are all relieved to come to this conclusion,” Berglund said Tuesday.

The final settlement resolved an ongoing disagreement over the number of unpaid furlough days, in which employees may be sent home from work without warning. The terms of the agreement stipulate 8 to 16 furlough days for each union member over the next two years. OUS originally planned to require employees to take up to 24 furlough days at a day’s notice. The question of notice will be set in stone when the contract is finalized.

The OUS needs to implement the furlough days now to avoid laying off classified staff. “If the economy has rebounded by the end of the two-year contract, we would no longer enforce furlough days,” said Hampton.

The contract will also freeze any across-the-board salary increases until Sept. 30, 2010, except when an employee is promoted. Although Berglund said the SEIU bargaining team sought a higher step to the salary range, she said the outcome was still positive.

“You never know with these decisions,” Berglund said. “We were all surprised with the speed and succinctness of the meeting.” The Monday meeting lasted from roughly 8 a.m. until 11 p.m., which was brief compared to previous bargaining meetings.

“Our relationship with the SEIU is one of mutual respect and understanding of the contributions of everyone in our statewide community of more than 100,000 staff, faculty and students,” OUS Chancellor George Pernsteiner said in a press release. “Each employee plays an important role every day, ensuring a quality, safe environment for our students to reach their higher education goals.”

All union members must now vote on the agreement. The results of their voting will be presented to the OUS no later than Oct. 6.

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