SALEM — A looming strike by thousands of workers at Oregon’s seven public universities has been avoided after the workers settled with management early Saturday morning.

The two-year contract was settled during talks at the Oregon Institute of Technology campus in Wilsonville.

Workers and the universities had reached an impasse after months of negotiations over cost of living increases, yearly pay bumps, benefits and the cost of meals for food service workers.

The workers, represented by Service Employees International Union Local 503, were preparing to strike unless an agreement was reached by 7 a.m. on Monday, Sept. 30, the first day of classes for many of the universities.

The union reported that the final agreement it reached includes the largest cost-of-living adjustment in over a decade, no boost in health care costs and 48 hours of paid leave for inclement weather.

University workers had lamented that they were getting short shrift compared to other workers on the state's payroll — especially after lawmakers voted to boost the amount of money going to public universities by $100 million over the next two years.

The median classified university worker makes $36,000 per year, according to SEIU Local 503. Classified staff work in jobs ranging from food service to information technology.

The union had railed against what it said were sky-high salaries for top administrators, bloated management and modest pay raises compared to other state workers. The universities had countered that they had made fair offers.

“Workers stuck together to demand a contract that respects the critical role they play in supporting our students and keeping our campuses running,” said Melissa Unger, executive director of SEIU Local 503, in a statement Saturday. “Together, we fought back take-aways proposed by management on wages, health care, steps and personal days, and won higher wages for all workers. This hard-fought victory is a testament to the strength and solidarity of Oregon’s front-line university workers.” 

There will be a vote among workers in the next few weeks to ratify the contract, according to the union. But until then, they will show up for their jobs as usual.

“As we welcome students back in the new academic year, we are pleased that we have a tentative agreement in place with our SEIU-represented classified workers, who play an important role in the education of more than 120,000 Oregon public university students,” the university presidents said in a joint statement Saturday. “Our university classified employees are respected colleagues who are vital to the operation of our universities and the diverse student services each campus provides.”

Oregon’s public universities include Western Oregon University, University of Oregon, Oregon State University, Eastern Oregon University, Southern Oregon University, Portland State University and the Oregon Institute of Technology.

Reporter Claire Withycombe: cwithycombe@eomediagroup.com or 971-304-4148.