On October 2, the Oregon legislature knuckled under and attacked low-wage workers and retirees by capping PERS cost-of-living-adjustments, while at the same time providing a large tax break to wealthy business owners. SEIU 503 Executive Director Heather Conroy issued the following brief statement in response:
“Today’s ‘special’ session bill package is nothing other than a disgrace to our state. Pulling the rug out from under low-wage seniors while giving more tax breaks to the wealthy and corporations isn’t the Oregon way.”
After a long and often contentious eight-month bargaining period, students services workers (non-teaching campus workers like librarians, lab techs, administrative assistants and custodians) and Oregon University System bargaining teams reached a tentative agreement at 2:30 a.m. on Sept. 26.
In light of the agreement, workers have stepped down from a strike that would have taken place system-wide on the first day of classes.
According to Marc Nisenfeld, a development engineer at Portland State University and chair of the SEIU 503 bargaining team, student services workers were simply looking for a fair deal after five years of wage freezes. “The economy has turned around, and people are moving forward. Administrators are moving forward. Goodness knows the Duck’s locker room is moving forward. All we ask is that we don’t fall further behind,” said Nisenfeld.
At the center of negotiations had been the issue of the “step system.” Classified student services workers are hired at an artificially low rate of pay, and put on a “step system” that they follow for the first nine years of their career, at which point they reach the market rate for their work.
Management had proposed doubling the period of time to reach the top of the scale to eighteen years. This agreement maintains the system at nine years.
The agreement also allows for very modest cost-of-living adjustments–1.5% and 2%–to take place toward the end of 2013 and 2014, respectively.
According to Nisenfeld, “Our goal throughout this process hasn’t been to strike–no one wants to strike. Our goal has been to achieve a settlement that moves our members toward economic security and improves our campus communities. We believe this agreement achieves that.”
The tentative agreement will now move to the 4,332 student services workers represented by SEIU 503 for a vote.
The following statement was issued by SEIU 503 President Rob Sisk and Executive Director Heather Conroy in response to Gov. Kitzhaber’s announcement of a special legislative session:
Robbing low-income seniors of their ability to pay the bills is not an Oregon value. People who have worked hard all their lives should not have to worry about falling behind in their golden years. Yet that’s exactly what today’s PERS proposal would inflict on state workers and retirees.
This proposal—a plan that would disproportionately impact low- and moderate-wage seniors and workers—is especially egregious in light of a proposed revenue package that keeps Oregon’s corporate tax burden at the second lowest in the country.
While students are being crammed into classrooms and our universities remain crucially underfunded, it’s time for big business and corporations to pick up their part of our shared sacrifice. The revenue proposal being discussed doesn’t get us anywhere near that.
Add to these concerns the possibility for long-term, “Business Energy Tax Credit”-style unintended consequences of proposed tax breaks, and the bottom line is clear: This proposal is wrong for seniors, it’s wrong for working families, and it’s wrong for Oregon.