With GTFs preparing to strike on December 2nd, many GTFF members have reported hearing misinformation from a number of sources. The information discussed below is tied mostly directly to the collective bargaining agreement and the topics being debated between the Administration and the GTFF. Questions about GTFF rights and a strike are available here. More general answer about what is going on at all are available here – although those answers are targeted towards undergraduates, they can answer a lot of questions about what is happening for people in general.
Myth: The University pays graduate students 30-50 thousand dollars a year.
Fact: This figure includes tuition and student fees, which the Administration decides and increases the costs of every year, the University pays to itself, and GTFs cannot use to pay for rent or to buy groceries. In terms of actual GTF income, most earn a gross income between $12,000 and $19,000 per year. For GTFs working the minimum rate and the maximum of 20 hours/week at a .49FTE, there is a monthly gap of more than $200 between their wages and what the University’s Financial Aid Website states is the cost of living to attend UO. Many of these GTFs make up this gap by taking out student loans or borrowing money from family members just to cover rent and food. In contrast, grad employees at Oregon State are paid $51 above the monthly cost of living in Corvallis and also receive tuition waivers, as do grad employees at nearly all major universities
Myth: 68% of GTFs are paid above the minimum rate.
Fact: Use of a “rate” to quantify GTF pay allows for misunderstanding of how much money GTFs actually get paid each month. Minimum GTF pay is defined by a set quarterly amount for GTFs who are hired for .5 FTE, although, in reality, GTFs are limited to being hired at .49 FTE by Grad School rules. While 68% of GTFs are paid at a higher rate than this, 59% of GTFs are hired for less than the full .49FTE. GTFs who are hired for under 0.49FTE and at the absolute minimum rate, around 250 GTFs, earn an average gross income of $920/month. Overall, nearly 2 out of 3 GTFs, 62% grad employees at UO, to earn gross incomes below the defined minimum quarterly amounts and 56% of GTFs do not make a gross income that meets the University’s cost of living estimates.
Myth: The University remains committed to paying for 95% of GTF health insurance.
Fact: Through the first 9 months of bargaining, the Administration pushed for language that would transfer health insurance costs onto graduate students, risking doubling or tripling costs for GTFs or a potential cut in benefits to keep costs down. The GTFF membership continually resisted this language, voting 98% in favor of striking if this language was included in a final contract. Only after this vote, and meeting with a state appointed mediator, did the University agree to guarantee to keep paying this rate.
Myth: The University will pay for all insurance premium increases in the next year.
Fact: The University will pay for 95% of premium increases, preserving the 95% – 5% split between the University and GTFs for insurance costs.
Myth: The University is responsible for the quality of GTFF health insurance.
Fact: Health insurance for GTFs is managed by the GTFF Health and Welfare Trust, an independent body of 5 GTFs and one University administrator that is chaired by the GTFF President. All decisions about GTF health insurance are made democratically by the Trust. The Trust has existed since the early 1990s, and is a very important piece of their contract to GTFs.
Myth: The University gave GTFs major dental insurance coverage and improved vision coverage.
Fact: Throughout bargaining, the Administration refused to pay for these benefits. These new benefits were negotiated by the Trust and their insurance company. Additionally, the new plan decreased insurance premiums by 3% for this year, saving the University $250,000 compared to last year.
Myth: The GTFF wants leave that would allow GTFs to cancel classes due to having a cold.
Fact: The GTFF medical leave proposal is for medical hardships – instances where a GTF’s doctor recommends rest from work for more than 1 week to heal from illness or injury. This leave would only apply in cases where GTFs miss more than 1 week of work. GTFs would be responsible for making up the first missed week and, regardless of the leave length, only receive pay for up to 2 weeks in a calendar year. The proposal also provides provisions for compensating GTFs who cover the work of other GTFs on leave.
Myth: The University values flexibility for balancing school, work, and life.
Fact: The Administration has flatly refused any paid leave for GTFs, stating during negotiations that their opposition is not a matter of cost, but rather a matter of principle. The GTFF estimates a cost of $52,000 a year to offer 2 weeks of paid medical and 2 weeks of paid parental leave for all GTFs. GTFs across campus have spoken openly about the lack of balance in school, work, and life when serious hospitalizations occur or a new baby is added to their household.
Myth: Like all employees working under 0.5FTE, GTFs should not have any paid leave.
Fact: All classified staff accrue paid sick leave, prorated to their employment. While it is true that academic staff under 0.5FTE do not have paid leave, GTFs, by a rule of the Graduate School, are prevented from being able to work over 0.49FTE. As a result they are unable to accrue leave hours, a position that is not equitable with other academic employees on campus.
Myth: The University is not in a financial position to offer paid leave to graduate students
Fact: Graduate student leave costs an estimated $52,000 per year. This estimate is based on 5 year historical data of graduate student insurance usage for hospitalizations, births, and surgeries. On average, around 24 GTFs (or their partners) give birth each year, and 58 are hospitalized or have surgeries that would need use of leave. Averaging these numbers over the different appointment lengths of GTFs, the pay rates for GTFs, and the population in each appointment length, gives a realistic estimate of around $52,000 per year. This takes into account the actual context of GTF usage rates, the wages of GTFs and the leave system being proposed by the GTFF.
While the GTFF feels strongly about the importance of paid medical and parental leave for all employees, the GTFF does not bargain with the University over leave policies for other groups. The cost of leave for GTFs under the proposal put forth by the GTFF is $52,000 per year.
Myth: The GTFF is unmoving on their leave proposals.
Fact: The GTFF has done much to change their original leave proposals. The GTFF has moved from 6 weeks down to 2 weeks. The GTFF has let go of paid bereavement leave. The GTFF has adopted medical hardship leave – leave that only kicks in after a GTF misses one week of work due to a medical condition. GTFs must make up that first week, and only the subsequent two weeks (when recommended by their doctors) would qualify as paid leave. These are substantial adjustments made to the GTFF proposal. These changes result in the very, very low cost of leave for GTFs.
Where the GTFF is not moving is on a request for paid leave. The members of the GTFF have repeated voted that they need leave structures that guarantee (for some limited time period) they (1) will not lose wages and (2) will not be pressured to make up missed hours resulting from needing leave. The GTFF is happy to discuss any forms of leave policies that meet these needs, but we cannot accept proposals that do not meet those needs. The Administration has continued to reject all proposals put forth by the GTFF and is unwilling to offer proposals of their own that contain the guarantees GTFs need. Stating that the GTFF is not making any movement on leave is actually just a complaint that the GTFF is not just giving up on paid leave.
Myth: GTFs are going on strike in the Fall.