The union representing more than 1,250 Portland State University faculty declared an impasse Monday morning in its labor contract talks with university administrators.
“It sets us up on a timeline toward a period when we could strike,” says Mary King, an economics professor who leads the PSU local of the American Association of University Professors.
Both sides spent five full days in mediation, plus a sixth full day of one-on-one talks between the top negotiators for PSU and the union, King says. “We’re been negotiating for far too long without making progress.”
PSU spokesman Scott Gallagher says the university is disappointed in the impasse declaration because progress was being made in mediation talks.
"We are confident that a fair and equitable contract settlement can be reached," he says.
PSU administrators have declined to discuss contract specifics during negotiations, saying they’ll leave that to the bargaining table.
The faculty’s existing contract expired last August, though it has been extended by the university during negotiations.
Under state collective bargaining law, the two sides now have a week to submit their final and best offers to the state Employment Relations Board, and “cost out” those proposals, King says. Then the board has a week to publish those proposals.
That triggers a 30-day “cooling off” period. If no settlement is reached by then, PSU would have the right to impose its last contract offer, and the faculty would have the right to go on strike.
There has never been a strike by PSU faculty before, and AAUP has not yet taken a strike vote among its members, King says.
But it’s clear that looming budget cuts have soured relations between PSU administrators and faculty, and the AAUP has complained that academics are being cut at the expense of administrative and athletic spending.
The university’s best salary offer in mediation would not keep pace with inflation, King says. In addition, the faculty is strongly resisting the administration’s attempt to eliminate contract language that assures faculty remain protected by the tenure and promotion policies adopted by the PSU Faculty Senate. The union also is concerned that more and more fulltime and tenured positions are being replaced by short-term and parttime teaching posts.
Despite the impasse declaration, another one-on-one negotiating session is slated for 3 p.m. Monday, King says.
Class registration for PSU's spring term continues as planned, Gallagher says, and the spring term will begin on March 31 as scheduled.
"Our priority is to make sure that students remain on track with their courses and are not interrupted," he says.