By Gillian Flaccus

The Associated Press

PORTLAND — Workers at seven public universities in Oregon have voted to authorize a strike if a new contract deal isn’t reached, their union said Wednesday.

The workers’ union, SEIU 503, said 95% of its members voted to strike Sept. 30 if a deal can’t be reached during a negotiating session Monday at Portland State University.

The union represents 4,500 public university employees who work in maintenance, food preparation, tech support, grounds, custodial services and financial aid assistance at Oregon’s seven publicly funded institutions.

Those are the University of Oregon, Oregon State University, Portland State University, the Oregon Institute of Technology, Southern Oregon University, Western Oregon University and Eastern Oregon University. Oregon State University-­Cascades in Bend has roughly 30 classified employees, according to spokeswoman Christine Coffin.

A strike would come as classes begin at some of those institutions, including the University of Oregon.

Sticking points in the negotiations include demands for higher cost-of-living increases and additional pay step increases for workers “topped out” at the top of their scale.

The union is pushing for a 6.25% cost-of-living increase spread over two years, said union spokesman Jay Parasco. The public university bargainers want a 4% cost-of-living increase over the same period.

Workers also are asking for an additional pay step at the top for longtime workers and to eliminate the lowest pay step of each salary range in 2020. The universities are proposing a $750 bonus for top-scale workers, but no new step increases for the highest paid employees.

The union also is fighting a proposal that would triple the cost of meals for the people who prepare them at the University of Oregon from $1 to $3 per meal.

Workers also want to be paid when universities are closed because of bad weather, while the universities are proposing up to 16 hours of paid time during weather closures — and more at the university president’s discretion.

Oregon Public Universities says negotiators are optimistic an agreement can be reached.

In a statement, Oregon Public Universities said the schools were disappointed in the strike authorization vote despite a 13.5% wage increase offer for the next two-year contract.

The schools said the current offer is better than the 2017-19 contract and represents a total wage increase of almost 25% over a four-year period.