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Paid Leave Letter

A graduate student recently had a letter published in The Register Guard discussing the importance of paid parental leave. His letter follows. Thank you, Jon, for speaking out on the behalf of your fellow graduate employees.

UO’s grad employees deserve parental leave

By Jon LaRochelle

AUG. 19, 2014

Since November 2013, the Graduate Teaching Fellows Federation has been bargaining with the University of Oregon administration in order to receive a living wage, much-needed improvements to health care coverage and limited forms of paid leave.

In a sign of good faith, the GTFF Healthcare Trust went out to bid on GTF health care, obtaining the requested benefits while saving the University $500,000 over the next contract cycle. In spite of this major accomplishment, the administration has called for mediation, refusing to meet GTFF demands on wages and digging in its heels on paid leave — especially paid parental leave. Mediation is scheduled for Thursday.

Paid parental leave is vital for improving graduate employee well-being, increasing the accessibility of graduate school and continuing the excellence of undergraduate education at the UO.

Graduate employees work up to 20 hours per week while taking a full course load and managing the increasing demands of professionalization and individual research. There is social pressure on grad students, and grad employees especially, to “put life on hold” while pursuing their studies. Grads are advised to “dissertate before they procreate.” GTFs are told, “Wait until you finish your degree. The timing isn’t right to have a kid in graduate school.” Similarly, junior faculty are often expected to postpone having kids until after they gain tenure

By this logic, no time is a good time. Young academics should not have to wait 10 to 15 years to finish a degree and get tenure before starting a family.

Consider, for instance, the teacher who teaches for five to 10 years before returning to school to get an advanced degree. Now in her late twenties or early thirties and a skilled professional, she should not have to change her plans to start or expand her family because her employer tells her to wait until she finishes her degree. The university should not be involved in family planning. A skilled professional who is elevating the quality of undergraduate education at the university has the right to start a family.

The expectation that grad employees will put their life on hold is unacceptable when grads teach about a third of the instruction hours at the university, and thus bring in about a third of tuition revenue. Grad employees make a substantial contribution to the quality of education at the UO. The stress of delaying life plans and the financial burden of starting a family without institutional support are unacceptable.

These conditions are especially problematic for women who want to have children by natural means. The risk of decreased pay and loss of health care during pregnancy, childbirth and the months following are deeply problematic. There may be no time during graduate school when women’s health and finances are more at risk, yet this is the time when the administration insists on failing them.

The policy is equally important for male GTFs. As parenting expectations change, men are taking on greater responsibility for child rearing. By providing parental leave to both mothers and fathers, the university can encourage and enable sharing of parental responsibilities and ensure the success of all parents in the GTF community.

The administration recently announced an expansion of parental leave benefits for unrepresented faculty and officers of the administration. That policy mirrors the requested leave for GTFs. Now is the time to extend that same benefit to GTFs.

Scott Coltrane — interim president following President Michael Gottfriedson’s resignation and head of the committee overseeing the administration’s bargaining team — has refused to entertain any form of parental leave for GTFs. Ironically, in a recent visit to the White House as an expert on parental leave, he argued that paternity leave is important for both working parents and their employers. He said in a recent interview that “…businesses that want to be successful will develop the policies needed to allow employees to balance family and work.” In his new position, we hope that he will take his own advice.

In May, GTFs voted overwhelmingly to authorize a strike in the fall. It is our sincere hope that the administration will work with us to prevent such a strike. We are deeply invested in undergraduate education at UO, and would much rather teach our classes than walk the picket line this fall.

Jon LaRochelle is a Ph.D. student in the philosophy department at the University of Oregon and a member of the GTFF’s bargaining team.

 

A discussion of the mediation session discussed in Jon is available here.

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Bargaining Update – August 21, 2014

The GTFF and University Administration Bargaining teams met on Thursday August 22nd before separating and communicating throughout the day via a state Employee Relations Board appointed mediator. The mediator passed information and proposals between the teams and pushed both sides to clearly delineate their beliefs, motivations and desires for each proposal to her. The mediator shared some of this information with the other team to allow us to better understand the stances taken by the other bargaining team. The mediator encouraged the teams to think of ideas that specifically address our motivations, while also pressing the teams to carefully take into account the views of those across the (now metaphorical) table. The ideas that are discussed in mediation are not official proposals, but rather an opportunity to creatively find solutions to the sticking points between the teams. These ideas certainly can, and hopefully will, develop into official proposals that will allow the teams to complete bargaining. Unfortunately, Thursday’s session did not lead to any official bargaining proposals being exchanged, though there were informal proposals exchanged.

The discussions during mediation are explicitly confidential, so specific ideas that were tossed around are to remain between the teams. The teams largely focused on the financial package, but also took some stabs at dealing with some non-financial items and cleared up a bit of confusion between teams about some articles. The teams were not able to reach an agreement on a new contract on Thursday, but agreed to meet again with the mediator on September 5th. We hope that this meeting will continue to be fruitful and allow us to come up with a contract that our members are willing to ratify early in the Fall quarter. As of right now the University Administration will not agree to proposals that would meet the basic bottom line issues set by our membership at our last General Membership Meeting. After over nine months of bargaining, and over a thousand full union members engaging in one way or another to follow this process, we are sad not to have better news as of yet. At our spring Emergency Membership Meeting we had hundreds of grad employees from all over campus come together with short notice and deliberate for over four hours to set those final bottom line issues. The following week nearly 700 people voted by ballot box 98% in favor of a strike. Our bargaining team continues to stand behind those very important actions that were taken by the our members.

The GTFF will have its next general membership meeting (GMM) on Friday October 3rd. At this meeting we can discuss as a group the state of bargaining, talk about business for the new year, and provide an introduction to new members about the union. Hopefully the bargaining discussion will include an overview of a completed contract that meets the needs of our members and is awaiting ratification, or we’ll hold a discussion and possibly continue making plans for a fall strike action.

On September 11 and 12, the Board of Trustees is holding a meeting (time and location to be determined). We encourage you to wear your GTFF t-shirt and join members of the bargaining team and GTFF executive board in attending. Even if we’ve completed bargaining through mediation, a visible GTF presence is important to show the board our investment in the University. Having a solid relationship with the Board of Trustees can benefit not just GTFs, but also the University as the board begins to trust in the opinions and experiences of its graduate students.

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GTFF Bargaining Update – August

The GTFF and the University of Oregon will return to contract bargaining this Thursday (August 21st) with the assistance of a mediator from the Oregon Employment Relations Board. We hope this will allow the two sides to come to an agreement before the new academic year begins.

 

One member of the GTFF’s bargaining has recently had a piece on our desire for parental leave published in the Register Guard. It is a wonderful read and the GTFF thanks Jon for speaking up for GTFs.

Jon makes reference to President Coltrane’s visit to the White House, which you can read about from Around the O. Around the O also revealed that

Coltrane believes paid paternity leave is better for men, women and children and that more significant steps need to be taken toward paid leave for both parents.

in a piece this week about President Coltrane being interviewed by NPR about parental leave. President Coltrane’s predecessor understood the importance of paid parental leave at least a little as he announced parental leave for unrepresented faculty and OAs before he stepped down. Another President, Mr. Obama, also has spoken to the importance of parental leave in recent months.

In June, Vitae, a section of The Chronicle of Higher Education ran a series on “pregnancy, motherhood, and the academy”. In these articles, four women reflect on their experience with balancing a life in academia and having or raising children. The whole series is fantastic, but I’ll highlight one segment from the second of the four articles, by Rachel Leventhal-Weiner:

When you find that you have no actual paid leave, either because your department won’t honor the policy or because you can’t afford to take unpaid leave, it’s time to make some difficult decisions. I’ve watched many graduate student colleagues drag themselves (and sometimes their breast pumps) back to the classroom earlier than they’d prefer, just to keep their stipends and their health benefits. And I’ve seen many others cobble together classroom coverage from their graduate-student peers for a few meager weeks. In these arrangements, everyone loses: The students get a half-dedicated instructor and the families get a half-dedicated parent.

We hope President Coltrane takes note of these voices: the graduate students who struggle without paid leave, President Obama’s, his own. We encourage him to be the one to take significant steps toward paid leave for both parents. We’ve heard he’d like that.

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GTFF 2014-2015 Insurance Improvements

We are pleased to announce, starting September 16th the already awesome GTFF insurance insurance gets even better.  Please take a moment, or longer, to learn about the exciting additions we have in store.

There are many ways to learn about the new benefits.  The best way is probably in person.  PacificSource and our Benefits Administrator, Glenn, will hold informal informational sessions on campus throughout August and September.  The first ones are coming up in the following locations/times:

  • Tuesday, August 19 at Noon in Allen Hall, Room 101
  • Monday, August 25 at 5:00 PM in Allen Hall, Room 101
  • Wednesday, August 27 at Noon in Allen Hall, Room 101

Can’t make any of these sessions?

Here is a summary of upcoming benefits created by PacificSource.

Wow, that summary is pretty long.  OK, here is one-sheet summarizing the summary.

Got a busy lifestyle more suited to bullet-points?  To sum up the summary of the summary:

  • We are moving to an HMO-style dental network and getting major dental coverage (e.g., crowns, orthodontics, and no more yearly limit).  *BUT* YOU MUST SELECT A “PRIMARY CARE DENTIST” FROM THE NEW NETWORK!  STAY TUNED FOR FURTHER INFORMATION ON THAT.
  • Vision: now you’ll be able to actually afford to have an exam & get glasses (or contacts).
  • Many routine medical office visits at the University Health Center will be free–no more reimbursement receipts for many basic services.
  • The amount you pay towards prescriptions will count towards your annual $1,100 out of pocket maximum.   i.e., if you pay $1,100 out of pocket for medical, or prescription bills, insurance will pick up 100% of your allowable medical and prescription costs after that.
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Bargaining Update – June 30

The GTFF and University of Oregon Administration’s bargaining teams held a bargaining session on June 30th. The GTFF presented proposals on all still open contract articles. These proposals were not agreed to by the Administration and they have reached out to the Oregon Employee Relations Board and asked for a mediator to help the two sides come to an agreement. More bargaining sessions will be held once the state assigns a mediator, a process that could take numerous weeks to finish, putting the next sessions probably sometime in August.

A complete report of the bargaining session on June 30th follows.

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