WHO IS SEIU 503 AND WHY ARE THEY GOING ON STRIKE?
WHO ARE CLASSIFIED STUDENT SERVICES WORKERS AT THE UO? For several years, a group of more than 1,500 workers at the UO–including office staff, librarians, computer techs, custodians, housing employees, engineers, nurses, maintenance workers and many others–have been forced to make tremendous economic sacrifices. The UO could not function without these employees–they feed our students, keep our IT system up and our libraries running; they pay our bills, run our offices, and ensure our workplaces are safe, clean and functional. Yet a large number barely make enough to pay their monthly bills.
FALLING FURTHER AND FURTHER BEHIND Student services workers had to accept pay freezes, unpaid furlough days, and shell out even more for their health insurance in order to help the seven campus Oregon University System (OUS) balance its budget. During the recent budget crisis, they were the only campus workers forced to take sizable pay cuts. At this point, one-quarter of classified student services workers make so little that they qualify for food stamps for a family of four, even though they work full time.
Now, the OUS is demanding further concessions—doubling the length of time it takes for workers to reach parity with their counterparts at other universities, rejecting proposals to restore badly needed funding to student services, and refusing to provide insurance equity for domestic partners.
A MATTER OF PRIORITIES Over the last five years, we’ve seen chrome and glass sports palaces erected and administrative payroll skyrocket; yet, when it comes to its lowest-paid workers and properly funding student services,
OUS claims poverty. That’s not only unacceptable; it’s outrageous. Because they recognize this, students have come out in large numbers to support a fair contract for classified student services workers.
WHY A STRIKE? Earlier this month, in a secret ballot election, student services workers voted overwhelmingly to authorize a strike. As classified workers at seven different OUS campuses are covered by the same agreement, the strike would affect all of these campuses, including UO.
A strike represents a tremendous sacrifice for these workers–they will receive no pay while they are out and risk bullying and intimidation from supervisors–and was only considered as a last resort following eight months of negotiations and mediation.
Other basic information
• If a settlement is not reached, workers will strike on September 30. Picket lines will be set up at several locations
across campus and continue until the end of the strike.
• Other important facts:
Number of classified student services workers in OUS: 4,332
Number of full-time workers who are food-stamp eligible for a family of four: 1,295
Number of days it takes a custodian to earn $22,250: 365
Number of days it takes UO President Michael Gottfredson to get the same amount: 10
Oregon’s ranking among 50 states in college graduation rates: 44th
Oregon’s ranking among 50 states in public university student investment: 44th
WHY DOES THE GTFF SUPPORT SEIU 503’S FIGHT FOR A FAIR CONTRACT?
-Letter from the GTFF President-
With the prospect that classified staff (represented by SEIU) across campus may go on strike beginning Monday, September 30th, it is extremely important for all GTFs to precisely understand their contractual rights and responsibilities in the case of a strike by another campus labor union. A campus labor union has not gone on strike since 1995, and so the situation would be a novel one to say the least. Many GTFs received a message from the graduate school last week (Thursday) outlining the responsibility GTFs have to not disrupt their GTF duties in the event of a strike. While this point is absolutely correct, they neglected to also mention that you may not be forced to do the work of a striking worker. The GTFF executive board and our lawyer have drafted a statement (also posted on our website) that goes into a bit more detail, specifying both what we can and cannot legally do as GTFs and as graduate students at the university in the event of a strike. The basic message is: in your GTF time you could be disciplined or fired for refusing to work, though in your student time you are free (and encouraged) to participate in and support the strike as you wish. Please read this document carefully and keep this crucial distinction in mind as the first week of classes approaches.
It also seems important, for the sake of context, to provide a sense of the relationship between the GTFF and SEIU. Copied below is an excerpt from a statement I delivered at an SEIU rally I was invited to speak at in June. It briefly supplies such context and explains why the GTFF has and continues to support the efforts of our sister labor unions on campus (which will very soon also include the faculty union–UA). And though the circumstances of SEIU’s bargaining campaign have obviously escalated since then, I believe the case for solidarity made there is only stronger today. Although we as GTFs are a diverse body, and may individually hold deep disagreements about the significance and value of a strike on campus, I encourage us to stand together, as much as possible, on this one. For, as we prepare for our own round of bargaining this fall, it is clear that, in many ways, SEIU’s struggle is our own.
If you have questions please contact our GTFF staff person Amber Cooper at firstname.lastname@example.org, or stop by our office at 870 E 14th above the Red Rooster Barber Shop.
With best wishes for a smooth return to campus!
PhD Candidate, Philosophy
GTFF President David Craig’s rally speech:
“Faculty and GTFs at the University of Oregon, immersed as they often are in their research and their teaching, can all too often forget that that research and that teaching is only possible because there are personnel on campus who keep our departments, institutes, classrooms, and buildings in operation. These personnel are the classified staff and the accomplishments that faculty and GTFs at the University of Oregon pride themselves on would simply not be possibly without them.
Beyond this fact that classified staff make possible research and teaching at the university, though, is the fact that they are workers, and in this their contribution becomes something broader—dare I say something more universal. For, from this vantage, it becomes apparent that faculty, GTFs, and classified staff at the university work together, alongside one another, to produce an environment of higher education that, at its best, we can all be proud of. And in this working together there is something dignified, something worth defending and articulating and fighting for in the face of a university administration that precisely does not work to create this higher education environment in the same way. For, at risk of oversimplification, while that administration administers this environment as something owned, something to be profited from, we workers—classified staff, GTFs, and faculty alike—work to make it the intrinsically valuable and publicly good thing that, at its best, it is.”