June 20, 2024

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UO faculty union warns of coming strike

5 min read
Kate Mills and Chris Sinclair: We come representing United Academics with an unfortunate warning: We are on a path towards a faculty strike.

The faculty union at the University of Oregon warned: They’re heading towards a strike. Kate Mills and Chris Sinclair spoke to the Board of Trustees June 4.

Kate Mills (United Academics): My name is Kate Mills. I’m an associate professor in psychology and I am the executive vice president of United Academics.

Chris Sinclair (United Academics): Thank you. I am Chris Sinclair. I’m an associate professor of mathematics. I am currently the secretary of United Academics and the chair of the Contract Action Team. I’ve previously been the president of United Academics and the president of the University Senate. Thanks for allowing us to speak with you today.

[00:00:33] We come representing United Academics with an unfortunate warning: We are on a path towards a faculty strike. And we can talk logically about the reasons for this. They are economic at this point. We have made a lot of progress on noneconomic issues at the table, but we are stuck on economic issues.

[00:00:57] And we can talk about logical reasons. I’ll go into some of that, but at the end of the day, in the current environment, from what we’ve seen on campus and from students and other groups, it’s going to be passion and power, which wins this argument. It’s not going to be logic at the table, unfortunately.

[00:01:13] Now, let’s talk a little bit about why we’re here. During COVID, COVID was a very traumatic time. The previous president of this university used the positions of 211 career faculty members in order to extort a wage reduction from the faculty. Basically, they said, ‘Give us $25 million in your salaries or we are going to fire these 211 people,’ right? I was at the table for that. It was a horrible time.

[00:01:42] This was not in the late part of COVID. This was in the summer when people were still worried about health insurance for their families. And for the university to come in and say, ‘These people go or you give us some of your wages back,’ we took the deal, of course.

[00:01:56] It turned out ultimately not to be necessary, right? Those wage cuts were not necessary. You put those people through hell because of wage cuts which were, ultimately, were not necessary. This is a huge part of the problem with the morale issue around here, is: People remember this.

[00:02:18] Now, we worked very hard during COVID. We gave up our wages, right? We were not particularly well-serviced by the university during that time as faculty. And we gave up raises during that time as well. We said, ‘Yes, we’ll forgo raises. We understand this is a difficult time for the university.’

[00:02:36] Now you’re coming back and you’re saying, ‘We can’t even give you raises worth inflation for faculty. We don’t even recognize how hard you worked during COVID. We don’t care, we can’t give you raises worth inflation, much less get us to the place where we need to be in order to be a competitive AAU university.’

[00:02:59] So our strategy is, we have told you what we need for economics at the table. We encourage you to read the package. We have given you the logical reasons for it. We have given you the evidence. You heard from our economists last time here. That is what we need. We have said that in bargaining, is, ‘We’re not going to do this meet-in-the-middle thing.’

[00:03:22] We have said, ‘This is what we need in order to be successful as a faculty and in order to be successful just from a financial viewpoint of not having negative wage increases due to not meeting inflation.’

[00:03:37] So what’s going to happen, hopefully, over the summer, you decide that a strike is not in your best interest. It’s not, right? It would be kind of chaotic in the fall with the election, with the UO student workers, with all of the passion that we see on campus right here.

[00:03:55] It’s not in anybody’s best interest, right? So, just come to those numbers. I think that once we get there, it will put the university back on a path in order for us to at least be on level with our peers in the AAU (Association of American Universities), and provide us those wages that we have lost during inflation.

[00:04:14] So the last thing I do want to say is a little bit just about why we’re here and what has been explained to us in terms of why raises even at the level of inflation are unnecessary.

[00:04:27] We’ve heard two basic reasons. One reason that we hear over and over again is because there was some sort of ballot initiative that was passed in the state of Oregon when I was in high school that makes it impossible for y’all to pay us basically inflation raises, right? You are relying on something that happened 30 years ago in order to say, ‘We can’t give you raises because something happened 30 years ago.’ That’s one thing.

[00:04:57] The second thing that was told to us at the bargaining table is that, ‘Well, we can’t really increase inflation because we’re at the top of the market.’ And this is because for years and years and years, the people at this table have allowed there to be higher-than-inflation increases in tuition and that money is not going back to the educational mission of the university.

[00:05:20] You have been taking more money out of the pockets of our students than you have been providing to the people who are actually supporting the mission of this institution. And it’s not going to stand.

[00:05:33] We fully recognize, we have given all the logical reasons at the table, you’re hearing some of them now, but we know that this fight is going to be won by passion and by power. And so what I am saying to you right now is: Please, if you don’t want to strike, we don’t want to strike.

[00:05:50] If you don’t want to strike, it is time to come around and say, ‘Yes, our faculty are important for the well-being of this university.” Yes, they worked very hard during COVID and were put through some very terrible things by some of the people at this table. And yes, it is time to reward those people with what they deserve and what this university deserves, which is a top-notch faculty where we are paid the rates that are market rates across the country.’

[00:06:22] Kate Mills (United Academics): I just want to echo what Chris is saying here.

[00:06:24] John Q: Kate Mills and Chris Sinclair of United Academics address the Board of Trustees June 4, warning that the UO is heading towards a faculty strike.

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