Ore. higher ed support staff could strike

Talks resume before new semester begins

CORVALLIS, Ore. - The university system in Oregon and its student services workers are set to bargain again Friday for a new contract -- and the stakes are suddenly higher, as the workers have voted to strike within 10 days if agreements aren't reached over some key issues.

Chief among them is pay.

Union bargaining team chair Marc Nisenfeld says staff members have seen more, and higher-paid, administrators at the schools and big investments in athletics. So, they just don't believe the assertion that there isn't enough money for raises for workers such as janitors, security officers and secretarial staff.

"I'm not saying cancel those programs like sports programs that take a significant amount of money," he says. "But they have money to spend on things that they want to spend it on. I think that they just don't value the contribution, they don't value the work that we do."

The union, SEIU Local 503, wants no full-time worker to be paid less than the amount to qualify for food stamps for a family of four - that's about $2,500 a month.

Nisenfeld says the universities initially approved that request, but have since withdrawn their agreement. A strike could happen as soon as Sept. 23 -- one week before classes are set to begin at Oregon's seven state universities.

The support staffers want a cost-of-living increase over the next two years that totals 5 percent. The schools are offering 3.5 percent.

Nisenfeld says it doesn't sound like a big difference until the effective dates of the increases are factored in.

"With the implementation dates being so different -- like ours are applied on July 1st, theirs are Dec. 1st," he says, "that even if it were the same amount, we're looking at six months' worth of not receiving that increase. So it's a significant amount."

Nisenfeld says the universities also want to change the step system of pay increases based on years of service, doubling the time it would take to reach the top pay for a support job, from nine years to 18.

The two sides have been negotiating since February.

Chris Thomas of Oregon News Service provided this story

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