Letter from the President:
Our bargaining team met with UO administration last week Friday for our third mediated bargaining session. On the advice of the mediator, we held this session with the intent of hammering out a number of non-economic proposals we’ve been working on for six months in the hopes of clearing ground to focus on the substantive economic issues still in play. Our team came prepared with a number of revised proposals worked on over the past week that made substantial movement in the hopes that the administration would be willing to accept our revisions and reach tentative agreement. Frustratingly, this did not occur.
Instead, the administration prepared zero proposals of their own in advance, held a multiple-hours-long caucus to write some, and returned with a set of proposals that leaves us no closer to agreement. These proposals rejected out of hand any language that imposes even the smallest burden on the university, such as requiring departments to inform GEs about proposed changes to department policies in GDRS documents ahead of time. In a dynamic that has come to define these negotiations, the administration both excessively delayed responding to proposals and developed counter proposals that fail to address any of our stated needs at the table. By the day’s end, we had no tentative agreements and were left only marginally closer to an agreement.
At this point, it is unclear if these delays on the part of the administration are strategic, or are the result of lack of commitment to settling a fair agreement in a timely manner. Regardless of the reason, the fact of the matter is that the blame for the overall lack of progress in negotiations falls squarely at the feet of the administration. Despite our bargaining team’s best efforts to negotiate in good faith, engage with the administration’s arguments, and develop robust proposals week after week, the administration does not seem to be taking these negotiations—or our bargaining team’s tremendous efforts—seriously.
In light of these (lack of) developments, we need to ramp up the pressure if we want the administration to take us seriously and to get real about reaching a fair deal. Over the next three weeks, you’re going to hear a lot of talk from your department stewards and colleagues about signing “strike pledge cards.” These cards express a commitment to withhold your labor if the GTFF membership approves a strike in the future (a 60% majority vote) and the bargaining team concludes that the only way to reach a fair agreement is to halt negotiations and move toward a strike.
To be perfectly clear, a strike is the option of last resort, and we will continue to negotiate in good faith for as long as it takes so long as we are making progress, however marginal, toward an agreement. We want to avoid a strike by doing everything in our power to compel the administration to present us with a deal we can accept. However, the administration needs to understand in no uncertain terms that we are also dead serious about these negotiations, and are willing to use every tool at our disposal to ensure a fair settlement that doesn’t cut our health insurance, moves us toward a living wage, and provides concrete improvements for our most vulnerable members. If the administration learns that the vast majority of GEs are willing to withhold their labor if it comes to it, they might finally begin to take us and our demands seriously.
While the strike pledges are critically important, there are also a number of other things you can do to compel the administration to get serious about reaching an agreement.
Join our cousins from the Campus Labor Council (including SEIU, ASUO, United Academics, and LERC) at the next meeting of the UO Board of Trustees on Thursday, May 23. We plan to make a ruckus and force the Board to hear from students and workers about how President Schill’s proposed budget cuts and tuition increases will eviscerate some of the most treasured campus programs and put college education out of reach of most Oregonians. After the meeting we will march to and rally at the EMU.
Attend the Contract Action Team Meeting at the union office tomorrow, May 15th at 5:30pm to help plan and coordinate our next actions for our escalation campaign.
Sign up for a shift of worksite canvassing to talk to your colleagues about bargaining and discuss the strike pledge cards.
I know these escalations and talk of strike can be uncertain and uncomfortable. I sincerely wish we didn’t need to have these conversations and that the administration was willing to listen to our priorities and work with us to reach an agreement. Despite our best efforts, this simply isn’t the case. They are determined to gut our hard-earned benefits, workplace protections, and the solidarity we’ve spent forty years building. They have given us no other choice but to court the possibility that a strike may be necessary. We are determined to win a strong contract for GEs that builds on past gains. Forward—not backward.
If you have any questions, comments, or feedback about the progress of bargaining, our most recent set of proposals, or any input for our bargaining team, please don’t hesitate to reach out to me at firstname.lastname@example.org.
President of the Graduate Teaching Fellows Federation