SEIU Local 503 demonstrators take to Johnson Hall before strike authorization

Members of the employee union that represents classified staff at the University of Oregon took to Johnson Hall Thursday afternoon in order to raise awareness on current contract negotiations that could lead to a strike.

SEIU Local 503 is currently bargaining with the Oregon University System. The union reached an impasse Aug. 19, the first step in the strike authorization process. From then, a 30-day cooling off period was initiated, which means Sept. 23 is the first day SEIU could legally start a strike should the union authorize it during a vote Sept. 9, 10 or 11.

Kurt Willcox, chief bargaining delegate of the SEIU’s UO Sublocal 805, stood on the steps of the administration building at approximately noon, asking members of a small crowd to help raise awareness of the union’s current negotiations with the OUS.

“Are we going to take another sub-standard contract after two years?” Willcox said into a megaphone. “We have to get support for the strike vote.”

Shortly after Willcox’s speech, the crowd began chanting to the tune of the UO fight song. Members then took two laps around Johnson Hall, chanting all the way before entering the building for approximately five minutes.

“Whose campus? Our campus. Is this Nike’s campus?” demonstrators shouted as they circled the building.

Once inside, a few members struck buckets as others chanted before the crowd left the building. No more than five minutes after the throng was chanting inside Johnson Hall, the building was silent.

Willcox said that although the union is negotiating with OUS, its members felt it was important to make their voices heard on campus.

“A lot of it was presence for the UO administration,” he said.

In regard to the last round of negotiations, Willcox said classified staff “ended up sacrificing more than administrators or faculty. We’re now at the point where there could be a strike.”

He also said that with the economy in better shape than it was when classified staff agreed to the terms of the previous contract, it shouldn’t be out of the question to negotiate something more fair. The latest round of bargaining led to the preservation of the union’s healthcare premiums — OUS had proposed a premium increase.

The unions says its concerns are:

• In terms of the contract OUS has proposed, 1,200 classified staff throughout Oregon’s seven public universities would be eligible for food stamps.

• Raises and step increases have been lackluster over the last few years.

• The OUS should allocate more resources for faculty and students rather than administrators.

• Some new hires are starting at a higher step than employees who have been around for one or two years.

• Same-sex couples don’t get the same recognition or tax breaks as their same-sex counterparts.

An OUS representative was not immediately available for comment. Although the UO isn’t directly involved in the union bargaining, spokeswoman Julie Brown spoke with The Emerald over the phone shortly after the demonstration.

“We value all of our employees, including our labor represented employees,” she said.

Strike authorization votes will be held in Columbia 150 on Sept. 10 and 11.

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Eder Campuzano

Eder Campuzano

Eder is the Emerald's director of audience engagement. His work has appeared in The Oregonian, The Statesman Journal and the News-Register in McMinnville. He was also a founding member of the University of Oregon's competitive Pokémon league.