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Thursday, September 12, 2013

STRIKE! (Maybe) Coming to a University Near You

Posted by Dirk VanderHart on Thu, Sep 12, 2013 at 7:54 PM

Nearly 700 Portland State University employees, as well as thousands of their counterparts throughout the state, have given notice they intend to strike later this month, a move that would effectively grind the Oregon University System to a halt.

In votes this week, members of the Service Employees International Union "overwhelmingly" signaled a willingness to abandon their posts if raises and other provisions aren't re-instituted in their next two-year contract.

"If things don't change, our intention is to walk of the job on Monday, September 23rd," said Marc Nisenfeld, chair of the bargaining team for SEIU Local 503. The union's been trying to reach agreement on a contract since February, but late last month declared an impasse.

There are myriad issues at play, but of particular concern, Nisenfeld said, were suggestions by the university system to award employees with partial year-to-year "step raises"—yearly bumps many employees receive until their salaries max out. The raises were frozen in recent years, as challenging financial times befell Oregon's public universities.

"People are counting on this," Nisenfeld said. "Now they want them to take half steps. It's just completely unfair."

By law, the SEIU is required to give 10 days' notice before a planned strike. The union plans to hold talks with administration officials on Friday and Saturday at Oregon State University, Nisenfeld said.

SEIU represents roughly 668 employees at Portland State—including many clerical jobs, IT and AV workers, public safety and facilities staff, and more. Nearly 4,500 public university workers statewide fall under the union's banner.

"The people who are the infrastructure of the university," Nisenfeld said.

The last time the union actually walked off the job was 1995, he said. It gave notice it would strike in September 2001, but pulled it after the September 11 attacks and eventually reached an agreement.

I spoke with Nisenfeld after 7 pm, and haven't reached anyone with university system administration.

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