PORTLAND, Ore. (AP) — Portland State University faculty voted to authorize their union leaders to call a strike, the union said Thursday.
The vote does not guarantee the first professorial strike in the history of the Oregon University System, but it was a required move for one to occur as early as April 3.
Full-time faculty members cast their ballots Tuesday and Wednesday. The union said 94 percent voted to strike if an agreement on a new contract can't be reached.
Talks between the school administration and the PSU chapter of the American Association of University Professors have lasted about a year, and the sides have made what are described as final offers. The difficult negotiations come amid budget trouble at Portland State, where administrators are trying to erase what had been a projected $15 million budget deficit for 2014-15.
Wages are a major issue, as are job stability and how much voice professors have in university decisions. Oregon University System figures show Portland State employs basically the same number of part-time faculty as full-time faculty, the only of the seven public universities in which that is the case. The union also says students are increasingly being taught by professors on one-year contracts.
"These kinds of conversations about 'is there money or is there not?' don't really apply to a significant portion of what we're asking for and what we feel like is essential to provide for the kind of quality education we're committed to," said David Osborn, a PSU instructor and union spokesman.
Portland State officials said in a statement that the parties will work "diligently" to avoid a strike. They said spring term will open on schedule March 31, and procedures are in place to maintain operations if there's a walkout.
The union seeks annual raises of between 3.25 percent and 5.5 percent this year and next. The university offered the choice of 1.5 percent or 2 percent annual raises. The better raise comes with a catch: The union must accept other changes to contract language.
"For example, the Faculty Senate and administration would reserve authority over changes to promotion and tenure guidelines without consulting with the union," the university said earlier this month.
The parties earlier this month entered a state-mandated 30-day cooling period that will expire April 2. If no deal is reached by then, the administration could impose the terms of its final offer or the faculty could strike. Talks are scheduled to resume Friday with the aid of state mediator Mary Kearney.
Portland State is Oregon's largest university, with an enrollment of 28,766 students. Five of Oregon's seven public universities have faculty unions; the exceptions are Oregon State and Oregon Tech.
Reduced state funding has squeezed budgets and led to sharp tuition increases at all the universities.
The state provided the Oregon University System with $753 million in the current 2013-15 budget period. That's slightly less than the $755 million it provided in the 1999-01 budget. Inflation makes that a much steeper decline, and system-wide enrollment has increased by more 33,000 students since 2000.
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