The recent tentative agreement between the classified staff at Oregon’s seven state universities and management is a massive milestone in improving our higher education for both students and employees. After years of miniscule cost of living adjustments we finally were able to start filling the financial gap that has affected thousands of staff. This was only possible because of the months of hard campaigning that members across the state committed to, but also because of the community and labor partners that we had.
The faculty on campus became some of our most committed supporters, with members from the American Federation of Teachers and the American Association of University Professors joining with the classified staff. They experience similar problems at universities where administrative salaries are prioritized over the people who work directly with students.
“The administration needs you. They need all of you, and that’s your power. To stand together and support each other. And we are going to stand with you and support you,” says Darrell Ross, who has been a professor at OSU for twenty-nine years. “we need to stand together as one community.”
Much of management’s rhetoric was designed to drive a split between the classified staff and the students. They incorrectly suggested that a fair contract would result in higher tuition. However a report commissioned by our Union found that this wasn’t the case. Students from the Coalition of Graduate of Employees, the Oregon Student Association, student government and organizations came out on every campus to voice their support for the classified staff, recognizing that without our hard work there is no campus for them to attend.
The reality is that management has the wrong priorities. They are paying over 400 administrators salaries in excess of $200,000, and employ twice as many supervisors as other public employers. .
Unions and community groups voiced their support for the classified staff and took action. Through the Jobs With Justice coalition, a delegation went to the leadership of Portland State University to show that campus and city communities are unified in support of the employees bargaining for a fair contract. From Teamsters to the Oregon Nurses Association to Unite Oregon, organizations across our state supported our campaign, showing that our struggle for a fair contract is in line with Oregon’s values.
“I support our SEIU staff because they are the workers who keep our community and our beautiful university running. Thank you SEIU!” says Jacqueline Dillon, a nurse at Good Samaritan hospital and Oregon Nurses Association member who came out to support the Oregon State University employees who were rallying in Corvallis.
As we vote to ratify the contract, we should continue to build relationships with these organizations and remember that we are often fighting for the same things. The more we can collaborate and support each other, the more effective our campaigns will be.