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SOU faculty reach tentative contract agreement with administration

Southern Oregon University

The two sides had been in negotiations for nearly a year. For the first time in the history of the university, the Associated Professors of Southern Oregon University (APSOU) union filed an impasse over negotiations in late March. The stalemate set the stage for a possible strike. But as the negotiation cooling off period came to a close this week, they reached an agreement.

“They agreed to our last offerings with minor concessions so I think we’re good,” said Donna Lane, a professor in the school of business and president of the APSOU union. “We still took a hit in salaries but we got some of our inequities and workload taken care of, so that was really good.”

At stake was a tiered salary table that determines faculty member pay based on year and rank. SOU administration wanted to eliminate those tables, according to Lane. After negotiations the pay tables will be compressed but remain intact.

Faculty will receive no salary increase this year but will get a guaranteed 2% increase for the next three years. They’ll also receive a 1% cost of living adjustment in May.

Some teaching inequities will also be addressed. Faculty weren’t paid an equal amount to teach lab courses versus lecture classes, despite a comparable workload, Lane says. Those responsibilities will now be treated equally. And “service work” such as serving on the faculty senate, being a union negotiator or secretary of an organization, work that is required for professional faculty, will be accounted for in their pay.

Tenured faculty members will avoid immediate threats to their job protection if the university went into retrenchment, a worst-case scenario where professors can be terminated if the university is struggling financially. University administration and APSOU will continue discussions about what would happen in case of retrenchment.

“I’ve very pleased that we reached an agreement,” said SOU Provost and Vice President for Academic Affairs Sue Walsh.

Walsh attributed the longer-than-usual negotiating period to factors outside of the specific terms of the contract.

“It’s two years of a pandemic and lots of things, the fires and other things, were pressing on people and I think that might have contributed to the length of time that it took us to get to where we are,” Walsh said.

Like many higher education institutions, the regional Oregon university has faced financial trouble in recent years. Both the student body and the number of faculty have decreased. SOU instituted cost-cutting measures like staff furloughs that began in 2020.

Lane says despite those shrinking numbers, members of the university administration increased by 100 people over the past decade, and she says there’s currently three administrators for every two faculty members.

“A union can’t settle that, but we know that, and we were discouraged that they gave themselves a raise, gave the staff a raise and then didn’t leave anything for faculty,” Lane said.

The tentative contract agreement must be voted on by the APSOU union board and be ratified by the union to become official.

Copyright 2022 Jefferson Public Radio. To see more, visit Jefferson Public Radio.

Erik Neumann is a radio producer and writer. A native of the Pacific Northwest, his work has appeared on public radio stations and in magazines along the West Coast. He received his Bachelor's Degree in geography from the University of Washington and a Master's in Journalism from UC Berkeley. Besides working at KUER, he enjoys being outside in just about every way possible.