Information on Graduate Assistance Fund

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Provost Bronet sent another email to the campus community yesterday praising a proposed Graduate Assistance Fund discussed during mediation this past week. The Fund model was discussed in the letter from GTFF President, Joe Henry, on Thursday. A review of the GTFF’s position on the fund, as well an analysis of some points made by the Provost, is below.

All of the wonderful things about the fund are not offered as a part of the GTFF collective bargaining agreement (CBA). Just like the flex-time proposal, all of the rules of the fund are determined entirely by the Administration. These include payment amounts, qualification methods, number of times the fund can be accessed, application process, fund operation oversight, and the fund’s denial appeal process. The Administration sets all the rules and they can change the rules as they wish.

Collective bargaining exists to make a legally-binding agreement (the CBA) between employer and employees. That’s what our bargaining team, our contract campaign committee, our stewards and hundreds of our members have volunteered countless of hours of our own time over the past year working to get accomplished. Collective bargaining is not an exercise in policy writing for the graduate school. What the Administration has offered with the fund is a weak promise to its graduate students. It is not a guarantee, and certainly not a legally-enforceable agreement for graduate employees. Any attempt to include language in the CBA about the fund (beyond its existence, size and ability for all grads to apply) was refused by the Administration. A Q&A about the fund is below.

The fund is a great idea. It can help a lot of graduate students, both GTFs and non-GTFs. The GTFF is proud to be involved in its development and would love for it to be adopted. But, it’s existence is not a sufficient alternative to paid leave for graduate employees.

Other points made by Provost Bronet are just as misleading as they were when originally stated:

  • Pay raises offered are 5% in year 1 and 4% in year 2. Hourly salaries obscure the fact that the graduate school prevents GTFs from being hired for more than 20 hours a week. Even for level 1 GTFs hired at 20 hours/week, their salaries are hundreds of dollars below the cost of living the UO Financial Aid Office estimates it costs to live in our community. GTFs of all levels who are hired less than 20 hours a week can be far below the cost of living. 58% of GTFs do not earn a gross income that meets the cost of living.
  • Tuition waivers are a standard practice for graduate programs across the nation. Tuition waivers cannot be used to pay for rent, utilities and groceries. Graduate employees at many other Universities, including those at Oregon State, have tuition waivers and are paid salaries that meet or exceed the cost of living in their communities.
  • $61 is already what GTFs pay for student fees. The Administration fought for months to change the rules to charge GTFs unlimited amounts in student fees.
  • The quality of health insurance for GTFs is secured not by the Administration, but by an independent Health and Welfare Trust. The Trust is chaired by the GTFF president and consists of 5 GTFs and one University representative. Recent improvements to vision and dental benefits were secured by the Trust at a savings of $250,000 to the University. The Administration fought all through bargaining to reduce their portion of insurance payments and cause GTFs to double or triple their own payments.

The Administration continues to refuse to make a true commitment to its graduate employees through our CBA. Rather, the Administration has ran an aggressive PR campaign against the GTFF. This campaign has attempted to reroute the conversation, distract from the issues, confuse the campus, and pit faculty, undergrads and, now, non-GTF grad students against GTFs. They have done all of this while not making an honest effort to reach a fair agreement with the GTFF. Yet they have repeatedly asked the GTFF to trust them on issues critical to our member’s health, wellbeing, and the quality of their teaching and research.

So what can we do? Keep speaking out about why paid leave, a living wage and employee respect matters to us. A number of our members spoke out on the importance of paid leave here. How can you do it? Social Media! #FairContractNow #GTFF3544 #WeAreUO #ReadyToStrike. Email or call your favorite Administrator! Here are some of our favorites:

 

Board of Trustees Chair Chuck Lilis (541) 346-3166 trustees@uoregon.edu
Interim President Scott Coltrane (541) 346-3036 pres@uoregon.edu
VP of Finance and Administration Jamie Moffitt (541) 346-3003 jmoffitt@uoregon.edu

 

You can also reach out to the GTFF and volunteer to help out with our own PR team. On Monday, you can come to our Ready to Strike Rally outside Johnson Hall at 5pm. If all that fails to encourage the Administration to agree to a fair contract during mediation on Monday, then what? To quote the Campus Labor Choir, “GET UP AND WALK OUT!”

Questions and Answers about the Graduate Assistance Fund

Question: Why can’t the GTFF and Administration agree on the fund?

The GTFF thinks the fund is a great system. We worked hard with the Administration to develop it so that it can offer serious benefits for GTFs and non-GTF grad students. We hope the Administration implements the fund.

The GTFF’s executive council voted that they could be willing to accept the fund as an alternative to paid leave. However, to do so, critical language about the fund must be in our collective bargaining agreement (CBA). The GTFF proposed language to do so and was willing to discuss alterations that would work for the Administration. However, the Administration still refused to accept any CBA language to guarantee the rules of how the fund might operate.

Question: Why does it need to be in the CBA?

Creating a CBA is the reason we hold negotiations. It is an enforceable, legally binding agreement between employer (UO) and employees (GTFs). The language that is written into the CBA must be followed by both sides. If either side violates the CBA, formal procedures exist to correct that, including a third-party arbitrator to correct any violations. Working out a deal, without any guarantee of follow through, undermines the intent of the collective bargaining process. Writing new policy for graduate students does not guarantee the needs of its graduate employees are being addressed.

The Administration is unwilling to include any CBA language for the fund other than (1) it exists, (2) there is at least $150,000 in the fund, and (3) GTFs, because they are grad students, can access the fund. So, the only legally binding portion of the fund would be its existence, size, and the fact that GTFs can access it. The rules of the fund, all details about how the fund operates and how grad students can access the fund, are left up to the Administration. That is not good enough.

 

Question: What concerns does the GTFF have about?

Without stronger language about the fund in the CBA, the needs of GTFs, as employees, are not protected. Under the system suggested by the Administration, the fund can be changed unilaterally by the Administration to operate any way they want. For example,

  • If the Administration thinks providing assistance to new parents is too costly, they can remove being a new parent from reasons the fund can be accessed.
  • If the Administration decides the maximum grant values of $1000 and $1500 are too high, they can reduce the amounts. GTFs paid more than the new amounts would still lose wages if needing leave.
  • If the Administration thinks grad students with serious injuries, but not life-threatening injuries, aren’t worth assisting, they can cut off funding to them.
  • If the Administration decides that grads can only access the fund one time in their graduate career, grad students who have children in their first year must take their chances they won’t get into bike accidents or risk losing their income.
  • If the Administration doesn’t think it should be in the business of replacing lost wages, they can remove wage-replacement as a qualifying reason to access the fund.

Allowing the Administration unilateral authority to change the fund’s policies risks putting GTFs in the same position they are in now: worried about their health, putting off having children, and rushing back to work before healthy in order to keep their income. That isn’t progress towards paid leave. It is the same problem that existed with the previous “flex-time” proposal: lack of a guarantee for employees. If the fund doesn’t guarantee protections for GTFs, it cannot work as an acceptable alternative to paid leave.

 

Question: Doesn’t the GTFF trust the Administration to administer the fund?

The UO Administration features a lot of turn over. Even if the current Administration has finally decided it will work with the GTFF, that does not mean the next Administration will be willing to do that.

Additionally, the Administration pushed for months during bargaining to push health insurance costs onto GTFs and increase student fees for GTFs. They sent a clear signal that they were willing to “balance” their budget on the backs of GTFs. This budget already contains a $65 million surplus, $11 million of that coming form just last academic year. Weak CBA language would give the Administration free reign to change the rules of the fund to save money at the expense of GTFs. This is not a position the GTFF is comfortable with.

 

Question: The Administration is setting aside $150,000 for this fund. That is more than the $52,000 asked for by the GTFF. What gives?

The GTFF estimates were a realistic estimate of the cost to replace just wages for GTFs. In addition to wages, the fund could also cover expenses that come from medical care, which is great. However, adding these costs and doubling the size of the pool of people accessing the fund makes $150,000 a close call to meet the needs of all graduate students.

A larger pool of money also doesn’t address the issues associated with changing fund rules. The Administration can alter the rules anyway they want in order to reduce fund access, and thus save money.

Especially with a stated goal of the Administration to expand the size of the graduate student body at UO, a small fund size is a serious risk. A fixed dollar amount in the fund won’t work. Grad students should not have to hope their major injuries happen in the Fall rather than Spring so that funds are still available. That is why the GTFF proposed language that would tie fund size to number of graduate students. This allows the fund to fluctuate in size as needed.

 

Question: Where would the money for the fund come form?

No one knows. Throughout bargaining, the Administration has stated they are strapped for money and could not afford any new benefits for GTFs. However, the Administration continues to find funding whenever it needs it. This includes $940,000 for former President Gottfredson’s severance package, more than $125,000 to hire an outside law firm to run negotiations with the GTFF, and now $150,000 for a new, non-guaranteed Graduate Student Assistance Fund. Much of this money is likely to come tuition and fees, a budget item that had an $11 million surplus in just the previous academic year and has built up an overall $65 million surplus over the past decade.