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Faculty At Oregon Tech Begin Week 2 Of Historic Strike

 Sean St. Clair, president of Oregon Tech American Association of University Professors (AAUP), is hoping for a settlement with university administration any day but offered no guarantees on Monday, in what is the second week of a historic strike at the university.
Holly Dillemuth / JPR News
Sean St. Clair, president of Oregon Tech American Association of University Professors (AAUP), is hoping for a settlement with university administration any day but offered no guarantees on Monday, in what is the second week of a historic strike at the university.

Negotiations were expected to edge closer to a contract on Monday morning, as the strike of Oregon Tech faculty reaches its second week at the Klamath Falls and Wilsonville campuses. But the faculty union — Oregon Tech American Association of University Professors (AAUP) — said university officials won’t budge on the union's pay proposal and that no deal had been reached by Monday afternoon.

The negotiating team bargained late into Sunday night and Monday morning and worked towards a third settlement package as of Monday morning, according to Kari Lundgren, secretary of Oregon Tech-AAUP. Faculty have been on strike since last Monday – the first in a public university in Oregon history - and students joined faculty the picket line in Klamath Falls as the day progressed.

“The negotiations continue to move forward and we’re hoping to reach a deal any day now,” said Sean St. Clair, president of the union, from the picket line on Monday. “We were hoping for over the weekend. It didn’t happen so we’re hoping any day now, but we’ll be out here as long as it takes to get a fair contract.”

St. Clair said the union wants secure benefits, fair and well-defined workload, and fair compensation.

“In the past, [university administration has] wanted to have a merit-only pool of compensation,” St. Clair said. “There would be this pool of money and everyone would be fighting each other for a piece of that pool of money, rather than rewarding faculty equally.”

St. Clair said faculty are looking for equitable pay in comparison to universities in Oregon, as well as between departments at OIT.

“We want to make sure people are compensated both on how long they’ve been here as well as their accomplishments,” St. Clair added.

Ken Fincher, vice president of Institutional Advancement for the university, said an agreement is "within the zone" of being reached between the administration and the union.

"But even then, you have to cross the T's and dot the I's," he said. "It can be a tough zone to break through."

Fincher said the administration has offered between a 10-13% salary increase over the course of the bargaining contract, though nothing has been agreed upon. He said the university negotiating team is drafting responses to the union.

He said the team worked until 2 a.m. on Monday and had hoped to come to an agreement.

"We are inching closer," he said. "We've seen movement from their side."

Meanwhile, Sean St. Clair said his classes are currently not being taught by a replacement and he has concerns about students.

“A lot of the classes are going unfilled, despite what the administration says,” St. Clair said.

“Of course we’re worried about the students. The whole reason we’re here is for the students and the students are here supporting us. They want us to get a fair contract. We want to get a fair contract so we can be back in the classroom with them.”

Alex Zendejas, one of the students organizing support for faculty, is among them.

The 23-year-old senior Mechanical Engineering student at Oregon Tech in Klamath Falls has been picketing since day one of the strike last week.

His wife, Jacquelyn Zendejas, an Applied Psychology student, was among 50 students taking part in a sit-in at Snell Hall last Friday to call for a fair faculty contract.

Jacquelyn said the sit-in was another form of striking for students to show, “that we mean this, we’re willing to go up into your offices.”

“We want [the professors] back in the classroom so they can teach us,” Alex said. “We care about them selflessly, but also it’s a little bit of a selfish thing because we want qualified professors to teach us.”

Christopher Syrnyk, an associate professor who serves as vice president of Faculty Senate, was also on the picket line. Syrnyk said when Faculty Senate convenes next, they will be considering a vote of no confidence in the Oregon Tech Board of Trustees or a direct appeal to Oregon Gov. Kate Brown.

The consideration of such an action comes on the heels of a vote of no confidence in Oregon Tech President Nagi Naganathan by 92% of the faculty.

“That type of response rate is considered off the charts,” Syrnyk said. “We had reached a point where any type of considerate request to share the governance, be a part of the university so that we can be all in this together, it was just not reaching a willing listener anymore.”

The board announced last month it would seek to hire an outside firm to survey the faculty.

“What this response shows is a lack of accountability,” Syrnyk said. “If they were truly participating in some checks and balances oriented system, I think we would have a different result right now.”

Copyright 2021 Jefferson Public Radio

Holly Dillemuth