Published: July 4, 2019

On June 20th, classified staff from Western Oregon University (WOU), which includes everyone from food service to custodial to information technology, came together to rally around the difficulty that our bargaining team has had in negotiations with management.

“Management is offering nothing,” said bargaining chair Rob Fulmer, talking about the disrespectful offers that the administration has provided in contract negotiations. “They are literally trying to take thousands of dollars from every full time employee with their proposed healthcare costs…They’re not asking us to work less, but they want to pay us less to work more.”

With the cost of living in Oregon rising quickly, management’s proposal would put many university employees into fragile economic situations. Jobs that were once a cornerstone of this community, could become untenable for anyone trying to work and raise a family in Monmouth. The same is true for workers at all seven of Oregon’s public universities. 

While this fight is waging between workers and management, students are being asked to pay more in tuition. You would think that university budgets are tight — but the truth is that the State Legislature just gave Higher Education its largest budget ever. To cut low-wage workers’ pay, while also raising tuition on students, during a year when budgets are bountiful — it’s just disrespectful. 

On Thursday, the bargaining team heard even more disrespectful responses to the issues the team had been raising about non-economic issues.  Many university workers have experienced harassment or bullying behavior from a supervisor. Bullying is a widely recognized problem in workplaces around the country. For anyone who has experienced this type of treatment on the job, it can be incredibly isolating for the survivor, and reaching out to report the problem and ask for support can be difficult. That is why the bargaining team proposed changing the window of time that survivors can report abuse from thirty days to ninety, ensuring that these difficult situations have the opportunity to come to light. Management responded by saying that if a person waits ninety days it was probably “not important” to begin with, showing a profound lack of empathy for the struggle abused workers face everyday.

Additionally, management wanted to further cut out union stewards and staff out of workplace issues. Weakening the representation that classified staff receive from their union is an attack on our collective power and your ability to fight for a better life at work. .

“We have seen management trying to manipulate the disciplinary process and try to keep union organizers without the information they need to do their job,” says bargaining delegate Nilda Peña, from the Oregon Institute of Technology, who had just walked out of that day’s bargaining session disappointed.

“This is why we are going to continue fighting for you and we are inviting everybody to go out to the rallies and to purple up to show unity.”

The bargaining team noted that this disrespect would not be tolerated. It is so critical that employees from across Oregon’s seven public universities come together, show their support, and stay united while the bargaining team fights hard to win a quality contract. This affects not only the conditions we work in every day, but also our wages and benefits, the things that add stability to Oregon families.

“I think bargaining is critical for employees here because we need to be able to come together as a group and stand up for the things that are important for us and our families,” says Richard Kavanaugh, the President of the Western Oregon University sublocal. “We need to be able to stand up for our wages, our benefits, we need to prevent our healthcare costs from going up, and we need to prevent cuts on our compensation.”