Faculty at Oregon State University have agreed to terms on a historic first union contract, at a time of unprecedented challenges to higher education. The faculty union, United Academics of Oregon State University, inked a tentative agreement May 28, covering 2,200 workers, to strengthen their campus through the power of collective action. Ratification is expected within days.
The victory comes after six years of organizing and 18 months of negotiating, and nearly two years after faculty declared their majority support for unionization in an official petition filed with the Oregon Employment Relations Board. The contract will be among the first in the Pacific Northwest for research-heavy, land-grant universities.
The agreement represents a major victory in improving academic life at OSU, particularly in the areas identified in the faculty’s bargaining platform—improving faculty voice, greater transparency, increased job stability, recognition of extraordinary service, equitable and inclusive employment, and research support. It doubles paid family leave from 60 to 120 hours, ensures healthcare for postdocs’ dependents, provides bridge funding for researchers, and firewalls salary cuts from deficit reductions—while acknowledging the need for some shared sacrifice in the context of declining revenue.
“The gains that we have made through our collective bargaining agreement address many of the worst inequities that OSU’s administration had allowed to fester over the last decade and a half,” says Victor Reyes, an English-as-a-second-language instructor in OSU’s program for international students.
The contract was hard-won, and involved more than 50 bargaining sessions—some of them, pre-COVID-19, packed with members who showed up in solidarity with the bargaining team. There were thousands of conversations with members, intense sessions conducted virtually and a least one all-nighter just before parties reach a tentative agreement. The global health crisis that made bargaining so much more challenging also made a fair contract more urgent.
“In the midst of a global pandemic, faculty are going above and beyond to shift to remote teaching, support and mentor students, and find creative ways to continue making progress on important research and scholarship—including research that is crucial to addressing the COVID-19 crisis,” says Marisa Chappell, an associate professor in the School of History, Philosophy, and Religion.
“We know when people join together and work together, the impossible becomes the possible,” says AFT President Randi Weingarten. “That is what happened here, at the bargaining table, in the midst of a pandemic: Faculty secured a historic first contract. It’s proof positive that workers joining together is the best way to safeguard pay, job security and academic freedom.” UAOSU is affiliated nationally with the American Association of University Professors and the American Federation of Teachers.
“This is a great day for the faculty at Oregon State and for all faculty across the country,” says Rudy Fichtenbaum, president of the AAUP. “Winning a first contract at a premier public land-grant university with a strong research mission and an extension division, in the midst of the COVID-19 pandemic, demonstrates the power of a united faculty.”
[AFT communications staff]