Members of the Oregon Tech faculty union are joined by students during a strike for better wages and benefits in front of their facility on Chemeketa Community College's campus on Monday, April 26, 2021. (Amanda Loman/Salem Reporter)

Five Oregon Institute of Technology professors in Salem joined colleagues in a faculty strike Monday after the faculty union and university failed to reach an agreement after more than a year of contract negotiations.

The faculty, who run Oregon Tech’s dental hygiene program on the Chemeketa Community College campus, said they’re seeking raises based on cost-of-living increases and more job security than the current one-year contracts most work under.

Students in the three-year dental hygiene program are enrolled at both Oregon Tech and Chemeketa and take classes from both institutions, graduating with a bachelor of science degree in dental hygiene. They also run a dental clinic on campus providing low-cost dental care to Salem residents.

The strike means the 39 students currently in the program won’t have Oregon Tech classes until the labor dispute is resolved, though they will continue to take Chemeketa courses. The clinic, which sees about 100 patients per week, also can’t operate without faculty supervision.

Faculty, who are employed by Oregon Tech, said they have no issue with Chemeketa and that the college has no say in their compensation.

They joined colleagues who began striking Monday at the main Oregon Tech campus in Klamath Falls and a satellite campus in Wilsonville.

Assistant professor Jessica Luebbers said the university’s current policies don’t fairly count faculty workload. For example, she’s credited for three hours of work when she supervises the campus clinic, even though she has to be on campus for five hours.

The university has proposed a raise system that would give faculty increases of up to 13% over the life of the contract, according to a statement Monday from Oregon Tech. The university characterized the faculty’s most recent proposal as seeking a 20% pay increase over the next year.

Salem faculty said the university’s pay proposal is based on merit increases tied to course evaluations and would pit faculty against each other. They said they’re frustrated by recent increases in administrative pay and positions while faculty haven’t seen raises in several years.

“I would basically have to outperform my colleagues here for a limited pot of money,” Luebbers said.

The faculty formed a union through the American Association of University Professors in 2018 and have been negotiating their first contract since the fall of 2019. Union members voted to authorize a strike April 2, with 92% of those who cast ballots in favor, according to an AAUP statement.

The Salem faculty declined to say their specific salaries, but said they could earn more working for Chemeketa or other Oregon community colleges. They said they’re proud of their track record, which includes all Salem program graduates passing their boards over the decade the program has existed.

Luebbers said students graduating from their program typically earn more during their first year as a dental hygienist in the private sector than she and her colleagues are paid.

Many students were out Monday morning to support the faculty, who they said regularly work evenings and weekends to help students with coursework or life concerns.

“They’re around the clock,” said Brandi Griswold, a dental hygiene student scheduled to finish the program in 2022.

Having faculty on strike means students can’t complete required clinical hours and may need to extend their schooling into the summer, Griswold said. But she and other students gathered outside the program’s building Monday morning said that disruption was worth their instructors getting a fair contract.

“Without our instructors here, this program wouldn’t be what it is,” said student Brittany Perkins.

Contact reporter Rachel Alexander: [email protected] or 503-575-1241.

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