After negotiating a new contract since early June, the SOU administration broke off negotiations with the faculty today and called for the State of Oregon to provide mediation. Kemble Yates, chief negotiator for the SOU faculty union APSOU (Association of Professors, Southern Oregon University) expressed his disappointment.
“We have been bargaining in good faith and I really thought we had most of the sticky issues resolved with the administration. But apparently a salary difference of 1% total over three years – we’re asking for a total of 8.25% while they are digging in on 7.25% – is a gulf they cannot cross. The difference in these salary dollars amount to a total of less than $100,000 per year for an annual budget of over $50 million dollars.” The administration recently gave itself a 3% raise, and the classified staff union recently settled for raises comparable to what APSOU is asking for.
Yates, a Mathematics professor at SOU for 29 years, explained that faculty are still smarting from events of the last two years – a retrenchment that cost at least a dozen faculty their jobs, sharp budget and program cuts, faculty salary freezes and furloughs, and a no confidence of vote of the top administrators. He had hoped that in light of the continued strides SOU has made of late including record student enrollments and student retention, a much more favorable legislative appropriation, and the improved direction set by President Saigo and the new SOU Board of Trustees would signal a better time.
A mediation session will be scheduled for later in December or in January and will be facilitated by the state’s Employment Relations Board, which is charged with aiding in the resolution of labor disputes. If mediation cannot bring the parties to a settlement, either side could declare impasse, resulting in each side presenting a final offer. After a 30 day cooling off period, the administration could unilaterally implement its final offer and the faculty could vote to strike.
“I’m quite sure most faculty would prefer not to strike. But our members are telling us that we need a much better contract after what we’ve endured the last two years.” In addition to salary, faculty are very concerned about significant workload issues and the trend of SOU administration replacing regular faculty with temporary – and very exploited – faculty. “We’ve lost 20% of the continuing faculty over the last five years, but the number of students has increased in that time. Nearly 50% of our courses are now taught by temporary faculty. And the number of administrators has increased as well, including 46 administrative hires since January of 2014.”