Professors and administrators at Southern Oregon University avoided a strike after the two sides reached a tentative agreement on pay, workload and job protections Monday night.
The two sides had been in talks for nearly a year. For the first time in the university’s history, the Associate Professors Union of Southern Oregon University (APSOU) filed a stalemate in negotiations in late March. The standoff paved the way for a possible strike. But as the cooling off period of the negotiations drew to a close this week, they reached an agreement.
“They accepted our last offers with minor concessions, so I think we’re good,” said Donna Lane, a business school professor and president of the APSOU union. “We still took a hit in wages, but we took care of some of our inequalities and our workload, so that was really good.”
At stake was a tiered salary table that determines faculty members’ salaries based on year and rank. The SOU administration wanted to eliminate these tables, according to Lane. After negotiations, the compensation tables will be compressed but will remain intact.
Faculty will receive no pay raise this year, but will get a guaranteed 2% raise for the next three years. They will also receive a 1% cost of living adjustment in May.
Some inequalities in education will also be addressed. Professors weren’t paid an equal amount for teaching lab classes versus lectures, despite having a comparable workload, Lane says. These responsibilities will henceforth be treated on an equal footing. And “service work,” such as serving on the faculty senate, being a union negotiator or secretary of an organization, work required for professional professors, will be factored into their salary.
Full professors will avoid immediate threats to their job protection if the university becomes entrenched, a worst-case scenario where professors can be fired if the university gets into financial trouble. The university administration and APSOU will continue discussions on what would happen in the event of dismissal.
“I am very happy that we have reached an agreement,” said Sue Walsh, vice president of SOU and vice president for academic affairs.
Walsh attributed the longer-than-usual negotiation period to factors outside the specific terms of the contract.
“It’s been two years of the pandemic and a lot of things, the fires and other things, people were rushing and I think that may have contributed to the time it took us to get to where we are,” Walsh said. .
Like many institutions of higher education, Oregon Regional University has struggled financially in recent years. The student body and the number of professors have decreased. SOU instituted cost-cutting measures like staff furloughs that began in 2020.
Lane says that despite these declining numbers, members of university administration have increased by 100 people over the past decade, and she says there are currently three administrators for every two faculty members.
“A union can’t fix this, but we know that, and we were discouraged that they gave themselves a raise, gave the staff a raise and then left nothing for the teachers.” , Lane said.
The tentative agreement must be voted on by the office of the APSOU union and be ratified by the union to become official.