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Oregon Tech faculty union votes to authorize a strike

The Oregon Institute of Technology’s faculty union voted this week to authorize a strike.

This comes more than 500 days after negotiations began between the union and OIT administration. The faculty union, Oregon Tech’s chapter of the American Association of University Professors, is demanding salary increases and more clearly defined workload limits, among other requests.

The union said as of Friday, 96% of faculty had cast their votes, and 92% of those votes were in favor of authorizing a strike.

It is not guaranteed that the faculty will strike, but union leadership can now call for one if an agreement is not reached with OIT.

If a strike does take place, it would be the first-ever faculty strike at an Oregon public university. Portland State’s faculty union voted to authorize a strike in 2014, but reached a deal shortly before walking out. Eastern Oregon’s faculty union similarly came close to striking in 2006.

“The students at Oregon Tech deserve better and our faculty have come together with one voice to say that — while we absolutely do not want to strike — we are ready to take this action to ensure our faculty are treated with respect and our students provided the highest quality education,” faculty union President Sean St. Clair said in a statement.

OIT declared an impasse early last month, and OIT President Nagi Naganathan said he felt there was a “lack of progress” from the union.

That impasse is followed by a cooling-off period. After that period ends, the administration may implement its final offer and faculty can then strike, if they choose to.

In a statement released late Friday, Naganathan expressed dismay at the apparent breakdown in discussions.

“After 16 months of negotiating, Oregon Tech is disappointed that OT-AAUP has decided to focus on using this approach instead of coming to the table with a true intent to work on an agreement and reach a resolution,” said Naganathan.

OIT’s statement Friday characterized the union’s proposal as a 20% salary increase coupled with a 20% reduction in faculty workload, amounting to a $9 million cost increase. The university contrasted that with its own offer, which it described as including “proposed retroactive pay increases as well as merit-based increases.”

University officials said the two sides last met on Thursday, were scheduled to meet again on Monday and according to the their statement “the Oregon Tech negotiations team has offered to meet every day during the week of April 12.”

At least when it comes to continuing talks, the two sides appear to agree. The faculty union says negotiations will continue through the cooling-off period, which ends April 17.

This story will be updated.

Copyright 2021 Oregon Public Broadcasting

Meerah Powell