Bargaining Rights FAQ

This page will be updated regularly. If your question is not answer here, check back soon or contact the GTFF.

 

If the union calls for a strike, must I strike?

No. All GEs can decide on their own if they are going to strike.

 

Can I lose my job for striking?
No. A strike called by the GTFF is legal in the state of Oregon. If an employee who is a member of the union’s bargaining unit takes part in a strike, they guaranteed to have their jobs back at the end of a strike. This covers all GE– both full members and fair share members. Additionally, refusal to rehire GEs in future terms based on past participation in a strike (or any other union activity) is a violation of our collective bargaining agreement and cannot be done.  If you refuse to do work (go on strike) early before the GTFF calls for a strike, or you refuse to return to work after the strike ends, then you can be fired.  Don’t do those things.

 

If I strike, can I lose by health insurance or tuition waiver?

The exact same guidelines for tuition waivers applies as for health insurance. The answers below refer specifically to tuition waivers, but the same answers apply for insurance.

If GEs complete 88 hours of labor for the University at any point this quarter, they cannot lose their tuition waiver for this quarter. Additionally, if a strike occurs this quarter, it cannot affect a GE’s qualification for tuition waivers in other terms.

CBA language (article 21, section 1c) specifies that in one week, a GTF cannot be required to work more than 15% of their overall FTE (unless agreed upon with their supervisor before the quarter began). This means, by the start of week 10, GEs will have already completed at least 70% of their assigned FTE, leaving a maximum of 15% in week 10 and 15% in week 11. Then, for all GEs hired at or above a 0.29 FTE, by the start of week 10, they will have already completed 88 hours of labor, and their tuition waiver is guaranteed.

GEs hired below 0.29 may have already worked above 88 hours this quarter, depending on their time allocation. The GTFF has always encouraged GEs to track their work hours, and we hope they have been doing so in order to prove they have met their contractual obligations. GEs with concerns about reaching 88 hours of work this quarter are encouraged to contact the GTFF.

 

What happens with my work for the term / can I lose pay?
If you individually choose to go on strike, you will not be working during the days the GTFF has called for a strike.  That means not teaching classes, not grading papers, not entering grades, not answering student emails, not doing the number of hours in your research lab that you are paid for as a GE (4 hours per day = FTE of .49).  If you choose to participate in a strike, you are striking over all of your work. You cannot selectively choose portions of your work duties to not perform.

When the strike is called off, you immediately go back to work and complete however many hours you can before the end of the term.  If there was work that was not completed while you were on strike you might be able to still complete that work or offer to do other extra work to help out getting things caught up after the strike.  There might not be extra work though, so then it will come down to an accurate accounting of hours, if you’ve completed the full hours associated with your FTE for the term (.49 = 215 hours per term) then there will be no loss of pay.  If you’ve completed less than that the employer has the right to cut the exact amount of your pay for the number of hours you didn’t complete that term.

 

Who keeps track of hours?
You do.  The UO has no work rules in place for hours tracking of GTF work.  If the UO decided to institute new work rules to track hours, they would need to negotiate that with the GTFF as it is a mandatory subject of bargaining.  It is also illegal for a supervisor, or member of the administration to photograph or videotape you while on strike.  They may come out and write down names of people they saw, but they would need to verify if you did not complete your total number of hours for the term or if you were out on the picket line in your own free time, much like many GEs already take part in informational pickets.  If the Administration says they think you’ll be short hours due to missed work, you would need to provide a copy of your hours you’ve been tracking this term, to show if you completed all your hours or not.

 

 

What about handing over my course materials? Can I hold on to all my grades?
It depends.  It’s not clear the administration is prepared to cover all courses and if they will ask for your materials.  But if they do request materials from you, you do have to provide them with copies of materials, if that does not add a large amount of time to your workload.  For instance, if you currently keep track of grades in an excel sheet or paper notebook, they cannot make you enter all of those into blackboard if that’s not part of what you normally would do. But, you should provide copies of the excel files or notebook. They may then have someone else upload them to blackboard and/or calculate final grades.  That “someone else” is likely to be a faculty person, who has the right to enter an “X” grade instead and wait for you to return to work and enter the grades yourself once the strike is called off.

Some GEs have asked about continuing to work during the strike, but holding back your grades – that is illegal.  It would not be considered a legal strike under the state statute and you would face serious consequences including discipline and dismissal.  A legal strike involves not doing the work that would have gotten done the days the strike occurs, and doing all your normal work before and after a strike.

 

Can I talk about the strike with the students I teach?  What about using listservs or bulletin boards?
It depends.  If other non-work related information, communications, or activities are allowed, the administration cannot ban union related information, communications or activities.  So if you or others can talk about or post about campus or community events not related to your course, they have to let you talk about the GTFF.

Some GEs are allowed discretion in their course to make small non-course related announcements at the beginning of class.  If you are allowed those, then you cannot be stopped from making GTFF or strike related announcements.  However, for some courses it might make sense to wait until the end of class for announcements so that you can stick around afterwards to answer questions without it cutting into your course time.  Undergrads are likely to have a lot of questions, so waiting until the end of class could make more sense, also then undergrads who do not want to sit through questions are free to leave.

Also, if you are allowed to use listservs for non-work related things, then you can use them for union emails as well.  But we’d advise to keep in mind that some things are better conveyed in person and other things better conveyed via email.  The best suggestion we have right now is to wait until class ends, and then mention for undergrads to go to our website and read the info on there for undergrads.

 

My department was told by the administration to send out a poll to ask GEs if they are striking.  Is that allowed? 
It depends.  Please send a copy of any polls issued to ?@gtff.net to verify if they have committed an Unfair Labor Practice.  If the poll is worded in a way that intimidates students or violates the state labor statute in some other way, you may not have to fill it out.

 

My advisor/department chair/supervisor/office administrative staff asked me if I was going on strike, can they do that?
NO.  Directly asking a GE if they plan to strike can be considered a form of intimidation and may violate the state labor statute.  You do not have to answer, and can warn them that they may be violating the law by asking you.  Have them talk to Human Resources to get their own legal advice about what they are doing before they commit any further Unfair Labor Practices.  All faculty and administrators can do is tell you that they are neutral to whether you strike or not.

Our VP of Grievances sent our membership the following email about just this topic:

Strikes can be very uncomfortable for employees when interacting with their employers, but as a member of a union, you have the right to go on strike. There are legal protections in place to ensure your employer does not violate those rights. The graduate school agrees that there are limits to what can be done. A discussion of what the Administration says their faculty can or cannot do is here: https://gradschool.uoregon.edu/gtf/bargaining-update-october-24-2014

What they say is summarized below. Things your supervisor (or the department or University Administration) cannot do:

  • ask individual GTFs if they intend to strike or comment on the advisability of choosing to strike;
  • bargain individually with GTFs to come or return to work during a strike;
  • make threats of reduced support or discharge or retaliate against GTFs that choose to strike;
  • make promises of any type to induce GTFs to come or return to work during a strike.
  • Supervisors should not alter a GTF’s work assignment in order to prepare for or provide coverage during the strike
  • Supervisors should not ask a GTFF who is not going on strike to cover work during a strike

That list is taken directly from the Grad School’s website (questions 1 and 2 in the link above) – so these are things the Administration (and faculty) know they cannot do. If your supervisor, department head or support staff does or says something you feel may violate your rights to go on strike, please contact grievances@gtff.net. Record keeping and verification is very important in making sure violations of your rights are dealt with appropriately. Please write down what occurred, what was said, and who else may have been present. Definitely save any emails your supervisor or department have sent that may violate these rights.

If you are asked to do any of the above, we encourage you to respond with the following language:

“According to my understanding, as well as the Graduate School FAQ regarding the potential strike (linked below for reference), it is unlawful for my supervisor to (list potential violation here: ex. ‘ask me if I intend to participate in a legal strike or request that I complete work ahead of schedule in anticipation of a strike’), and may constitute an Unfair Labor Practice. Therefore I decline to answer.

I am working hard to complete all my GTF work on the same schedule I would if there were no potential strike. I am forwarding these emails to our union to follow up on potential violations that may have occurred.”

As always, please email Shawna with any questions at grievances@gtff.net.

 

Additionally, the GTFF sent a cease and desist letter to the University Administration on just these topics. The GTFF has been hearing many reports of its members being asked by supervisors and department Administrators asking them if they planned on striking. As mentioned in the letter (copied below and available as a PDF here), doing so has a chilling effect on our membership and may constitute a unfair labor practice.

The Graduate Teaching Fellows Federation, Local 3544 hereby demands that University of Oregon cease and desist from unlawfully coercing graduate employees (GEs) from exercising their statutory rights under the Public Employees Collective Bargaining Act (PECBA). Multiple supervisors have polled GEs via email asking whether the GE will participate in the upcoming strike. This questioning has a chilling effect on the exercise of protected activity, like striking.

Employer interference with, restraint or coercion of employees in the exercise of protected activities is an unfair labor practice under ORS 243.672(1)(a). The Employment Relations Board has held that “it is inherently coercive for an employer to interrogate its employees regarding their support for, or their activities in support of, their union.” ATU, Division 757 v. Rogue Valley Transportation Dist., 16 PECBR 559, 578, adhered to on recons., 16 PECBR 707 (1996). Although the Board has stated that polling public employees about their intent to participate in an upcoming strike may be lawful under certain circumstances, the questioning here did not conform to those requirements. The interrogation did not contain an explicit statement that no reprisals would be taken against the employee regardless of the employee’s answer. Accordingly, the polling did not meet the requirements outlined by the Board.

GEs are protected under the law to engage in organizing and strike activities. The University’s questioning is inherently coercive and constitutes an unfair labor practice in violation of the PECBA. The GTFF is prepared to file an unfair labor practice charge in response.

 

The University Administration sent the following response to the GTFF about our cease and desist.

The University had decided not to poll and has and will continue to make it clear that GE supervisors and managers should not independently ask GEs whether they intend to strike.

If I receive emails about my winter GTF appointment when I’m on strike, can I answer them? Or would that be “doing work?”

This depends on the content of the email.  You may respond to questions about scheduling (i.e., figuring out which sections you will be teaching) or other general scheduling-type questions.  You may not do any work such as preparing for a class, reading, writing lectures, or contacting students to inform them about the class.  You can accept appointments and sign contracts.

I am an international student and a GE. What does a strike mean for me?

International GEs have the same legal protections to participate in ANY union activities as domestic GEs. That includes striking. As striking is legal in the state of Oregon, their status as an employee is not at risk during a strike.

The University’s website had given a different interpretation, which the GTFF asked the University to correct with this letter. They have corrected their site, but warns international grad students that their visa status is linked to their status as a student. That status is NOT at risk during a strike. Grad student’s student status is NOT tied to their status as an employee. Additionally, it is very, very unlikely that grads would lose tuition waivers during a strike. A discussion of this topic is available here.

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