If you’ve ever worked as a state government employee, you might already know that state government employee unions are a thing. As sad as the thought may be, someone has to be looking out for workers to make sure they’re paid enough and treated fairly by the same government they work for. As of recently, however, a large step has been taken within Oregon to ensure just that.
The largest union representing state government employees in Oregon has reached a tentative contract with state officials. Members of Local 503 of Service Employees International Union (SEIU), who represent more than 40% of the state government workforce, are still in the process of ratifying the agreement, which will start later in July and end on August 21st.
Employees will soon be in line for a one-time payout of $1,500, as well as cost of living pay increases for each of the next two years until June 30, 2025.
So, what are the finer details and how did this come about? Well the old contract had actually expired back on June 30. Two days before it was set to finally expire, hundreds of state government workers rallied at 60 worksites across the state to bring further awareness to the ongoing negotiations. It was done in hopes of putting further pressure on the state officials in negotiations. Despite the contract having already ended, though, it was through very lengthy sessions between union organizers and state officials that talks were extended through July 5. The agreement did not come without a firm battle, as one of the final sessions that brought about the agreement was a staggering 17 hours long.
The agreement will put into place the following details:
- The aforementioned one-time payout of $1,500 on September 1. This will only apply to workers employed on July 1 and still on the payroll by August 24.
- Pay increases of 6.5% starting January 1, and another increase 6.55% by the time of January or February of 2025.
- The steps within pay ranges and health insurance will be maintained and without change.
- By 2025, no state worker will earn less than $21.06 per hour.
- A new committee will be implemented to oversee how state agencies will handle complaints pertaining to bias, equity, and discrimination.
- Union organizers and employees will have a much easier way of accessing one another in subjects pertaining to union issues, specifically revolving around complaints with discrimination.
Although the agreement was tentative and the SEIU did not gain everything they brought to the table, this was still a huge win in their book. Back on April 23rd, they’d released a report that stated that 8,500 positions (or roughly 20% of the state’s workforce) were empty, and that in 2022, 4,300 positions had been empty for at least 6 months. This was even when agencies were turning back unspent money that were intended for other purposes.
Needless to say, this was a huge win for the union organizers. Ibrahim Coulibaly, co-chair of the bargaining team, had this to say about the grueling endeavor to give state employees what they rightfully deserved,
“The time we spent negotiating was well worth it. There were moments of frustration, but in the end, we came to an agreement that is one of the best in decades for state workers, with money in the pockets of employees as soon as possible.”
At a rally on June 28, the union representatives had originally been proposing for the cost-of-living pay increase to be 9.5% starting on July 1 (given that they only just finished with negotiations, that isn’t happening) and another 7.5% increase starting on July 1 of 2024. This was lowered, of course, but it’s still a significant win. You don’t need to be a genius to know that the payment issue was the biggest point of contention between the union and Oregon state officials. When money gets thrown around, people can be a lot more difficult to convince.
Once this new agreement has been ratified, which we’re certain it will be, many Oregon state government employees will be able to breathe a lot easier knowing that people are looking out for them. If you have a steady job and are not a part of a union, it’s certainly worth a look into possibly joining one. Many people believe that unions are one of the only ways for progress to exist in the workplace.