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As spring break ends, a faculty strike vote at Oregon Tech edges closer.

The university’s administration and its faculty union have yet to reach an agreement on a new three-year labor contract after more than 450 days of bargaining.

The vote is open on whether faculty would authorize a strike if a deal is not reached by the end of the 30-day cooling-off period. Faculty will continue to vote until April 2. One sticking point the union — the Oregon Tech-American Association of University Professors — points to is the university’s continued proposal of tying salary increases to merit, with administrators being the judge of “merit.”

Oregon Tech Vice President of Institutional Advancement Ken Fincher called merit-based salary increases “the gold standard,” noting that it rewards faculty who go above and beyond.

The union disagreed, saying in a release that merit-based pay makes faculty compete with each other for limited resources.

“Trust between faculty and the administration is not at a level for faculty to allow this policy the benefit of the doubt,” stated the union’s press release.

Meanwhile, a separate vote looms. On Monday morning, faculty will begin voting on whether they have confidence in university president Nagi Naganathan’s leadership. Following a faculty senate resolution calling for Naganathan’s resignation that passed unanimously, the faculty-wide vote is the next step in ousting the president after he refused to step down.

On Thursday, university administration released a statement addressing the senate’s grievances. The three topics listed by the senate are “disregard of existing Oregon Tech policies and the editing of policies without Senate approval,” “lack of commitment to shared governance as established by the Board of Trustees” and “failure to execute responsible fiscal management of Oregon Tech monetary, capital and human resources.”

University administration refuted the claims.

On the issue of shared governance, OIT administrators said that the senate has overestimated its role in decision-making.

“Depending on the topic, the senate should be given the opportunity to provide its input, and its perspective given significant weight, but the senate’s role is not to approve every policy adoption or change. If such were the case, the senate could effectively ‘veto’ or ‘table’ every action of the university, and the senate would be the de facto operating oversight body of the university,” stated an administation press releases.

Administration called the senate’s resolution “chaotic” and “embarrassing.” It noted that the senate’s report citing grievances against Naganathan opens with “while every point of this document may not be correct to the last detail.”

Senate President and Professor Don McDonnell noted that full sentence read “While every point of this document may not be correct to the last detail, in part due to lack of transparency of budgets and administrative decision-making processes, we believe that the overwhelming body of evidence supports these broad and extensive areas of deficiency in Dr. Naganathan’s leadership.”

The university continues to point to the confluence of labor negotiations and the faculty senate calls for Naganathan’s removal, claiming the actions are linked. Faculty senate president Don McDonnell once again stated the resolution was prompted by long-held grievances and feelings of being undervalued, and that the move was not retaliation about negotiations remaining stagnant.

Fincher said the two big issues he sees that are blocking a deal is the union’s proposed salary increases, which administration estimates would cost the university roughly $9 million over three years, and defining faculty workload.

Fincher declined to comment on the union’s latest contract offer, saying the points of contention need to be worked out at the bargaining table instead of in public.

“We’re eager to get back to the negotiation table, and to iron out our differences,” Fincher said.

The 158 union-represented faculty can choose whether or not to participate in a strike after the cooling-off period expires on April 17. Fincher has said that the university is prepared in the case of a strike to continue offering classes by filling in for faculty with department chairs, deans and adjunct instructors.

Another bargaining session is scheduled for April 1. If faculty strike, it would mark the first time in Oregon history.

Reporter Becca Robbins can be reached at 541-885-4481 or rrobbins@heraldandnews.com.