A Roundup of Events from the January 24th Bargaining Session between the GTFF and the UO
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UO Counter Proposal
|Eliminate layoffs||Keep layoffs + those who are laid off after a term starts are no longer going to get a tuition waiver for the term after they the one they were laid off in|
|$200 is not enough for vision||Nodded in the affirmative, negative in the verbal|
|6.1% raise in each of the next 3 years, thereby brining the minimum wage to meet the graduate cost of living figure produced by the University||1.5% in the first year of the new contract and 2% the following year|
|Keep the healthcare trust||Asks the GTFF to give the University permission to investigate other health insurance options, then replace the GTFF trust (without any GTFF oversight) if they find a plan that is “comparable and cheaper” and won’t result in a lapse of coverage|
|Summer Sandwich – give a tuition waiver for the summer term to all GTFs who had any appointment in the preceding academic year.||The University also asks to change the “summer sandwich” to only allow for GTFs who have teaching appoints 2 terms in the first academic year and an appointment in the fall of the 2nd year to get a summer tuition waiver for the summer between the two years (rather than needing 2 terms of GTF appointment in one of the years and and one term in the other year, in any combination)|
|Waive all fees||The University wishes to adjust the incidental fees paid by GTFs to a percentage basis that fluctuates between the academic year and summer term|
|Parental leave/sick leave||We can’t afford it|
- Over 90 GTFs showed up (keep coming, we need more!), 130 coming and going (10% of total membership)
- Thanks to Danielle and Heather for bravely sharing their stories
- University says they cannot afford to meet a lot of our requests
- $10-million surplus between 2012 and projected 2014 overall budgets alone
- Can only afford an additional $1.732 million to graduate students
- University Public budget reports: http://budgetmodel.uoregon.edu/content/budget-reports-public
- Bureau of Labor Statistics Consumer Price Index Website: http://www.bls.gov/cpi/
Narrative summary prepared by the bargaining committee:
The University’s bargaining team are either very tough negotiators, have never listened to a word the GTFF’s bargaining team has said in prior bargaining sessions, or doesn’t care what we had to say. For example, on the topic of layoffs, the bargaining team suggested eliminating layoffs completely, as they are a serious financial burden on our members. The University’s counterproposal for layoffs was to propose keeping layoffs but, in addition, denying tuition waivers for the term after GTFs are laid off. When our hardworking and wonderful lead negotiator, Amber, asked if they were really responding to our request to reduce the financial hardship of layoffs by removing the only existing financial break afforded to GTFs who have been laid off, the University’s expensive hired lawyer and lead negotiator, Jeff, responded that the University was indeed moving away from our proposal, rather than trying to compromise. Sadly, this is not the only instance where the University’s response to our proposals was just a two letter response: N-O.
Before we go further into the University’s limited negotiating vocabulary, we want to thank GTF members who turned out to bargaining. We consistently counted upwards of 90 graduate students in the bargaining room during the session. Extrapolated to account for members who entered and left the session as their scheduled allowed, we estimate a turnout of, maybe, 130 students. This is fantastic. We are thrilled to have you join us and show the University that they are not just rejecting 6 table members, but there are hundreds of GTFs are being hurt by their proposals. But, we can do better. 130 GTFs is still only around 10% of our membership. There are more of you out there. We need you to join us. You are our strength. During a break in the negotiations, we handed out signs to our members expressing our displeasure with a specific proposal that the university presented. Watching the faces of the university’s committee members as they looked to see the room full of signs rejecting a proposal they had given us less than an hour earlier truly showed our strength. They were nervous. If they are nervous about dozens of people holding signs, what will hundreds of us be able to accomplish?
We also want to thank a few members who joined us to share stories about burdens they currently face as graduate students. Heather Marek shared fantastic data on how she is unable to afford basic, necessary vision coverage under the current system. Two hundred dollars a year is just not enough to both get an exam and purchase glasses or contacts. She finds herself wearing contacts well beyond their suggested wear-time. The fact that the members of University’s bargaining committee nodded in agreement that $200 wasn’t sufficient for vision coverage but still wasn’t interested in working with us to bridge that gap might help answer the question if the University isn’t listening or doesn’t care. Danielle Perry also gave the University a glimpse into the financial world of graduate students. Even being comfortably above the minimum graduate student wage, she finds herself struggling to get by, needing to take out loans to supplement her income to help raise her child. Both Danielle and Heather demonstrate the financial need graduate students face, a problem the University is well equipped to help relieve, if they so choose.
However, the university doesn’t appear interested in choosing to do that. To meet basic costs of living as estimated by the University, the GTFF proposed raises of 6.1% over the next two years so all graduate students can afford these costs. At least now we know that the University appeared to be honest in stating previously that graduate students wages were “not intended” to meet the basic cost of living. They counter proposed raises of 1.5% in the first year of the new contract and 2% the following year. These raises just barely match average cost of living increases due to inflation of 1.6% over the past 5 years (according to the US Bureau of Labor Statistics). If the inflation rate is higher than 2%, as it has been 7 of the past 10 years, the University’s proposal would feel like a pay-decrease rather than an increase for GTFs being paid the minimum rate. The University wants to claim these raises meet the raises for members of the other unions on campus, but they conveniently ignore the multiple other raise options available to members of those unions that the GTF members do not have. It is also important to remember that even if other unions on campus only get 1 or 2 percent raises, their members are still making a wage that meets the costs of living in Eugene. Again, rather than trying to meet us somewhere in the middle and close the gap that graduate students feel in meeting their basic costs of living, the University opted to move away from the graduate students and risk financially burdening GTFs even more.
But at least the University is upfront about their intentions here. This cannot be said about the University’s plans for graduate student’s healthcare. The University’s proposal asks the GTFF to give the University permission to investigate other health insurance options with the capability to replace the GTFF trust if they find a plan that is “comparable and cheaper” and won’t result in a lapse of coverage. They are not asking the GTFF to change our health insurance to something else, they are explicitly asking the GTFF to consent to allow them to change our health insurance without GTFF oversight. Current GTFF trust members, the bargaining team, and the GTFF at large might be asked what they think, but the ultimate decision about completely changing our health insurance would be made solely by the University. We’d have no say in what form it would take. The University could not even suggest what form a new insurance plan might take, other than it would be a “student insurance plan” that would open enrollment to all graduate students and not just those with GTF appointments. When objecting to possibly losing our Health and Welfare Trust, we emphasized that the trust is managed by GTFs and allows us to make our own choices with our health. Of course, the University did not understand why we love our trust and not just the insurance.
The trust, in place for over 20 years, has proven itself an efficient system for managing the health needs of thousands of graduate students. We decide how we regulate our care. If we, as a group, have needs that aren’t being met, we can adjust our coverage to meet those needs. For example, at the bargaining table Amber shared the story of a GTF who was struggling with necessary medical prescriptions that were taking up the majority of her paycheck. In response, the GTF trust decided to adjust their own coverage, at the cost of losing some alternative care options, so that these medications were covered. This decision was made by trust members who shared the insurance plan in order to help other members. Do you think the very wealthy University administrators and insurance companies would be happy to make this adjustment? Would they understand the burden faced by an already underpaid and overworked graduate student who has to spend the vast majority of her income on expensive medications? They are interested in the finances of insurance and not its actual impact on those covered by the insurance. The trust members are graduate students. They make decisions that impact themselves, their friends, and their families—people whose position in life they understand and with whom they sympathize. Because we want the freedom to choose our priorities, the trust is the best way to meet the needs of graduate students.
The trust also allows the GTFF to employ Glenn, an incredible administrator who caters to the special needs of graduate students. The evolving positions of graduate students result in continual insurance enrollment changes. Glenn has the ability and knowledge to quickly fix problem that arise – many times within the same day of hearing of problems from a graduate student. Can any University office fix a problem the day it is brought to their attention? Glenn can! Glenn does. Can any University office do anything useful within a day? What about within a week? Maybe a month. If the university can’t consistently pay people on time, how would we expect them to effectively manage an entirely new health insurance plan?
Beyond possibly losing the trust, there are other issues with the University’s proposal. It is very risky to trust the university to make decisions on behalf of the GTFF. There is no clear description of how the University would compare possible replacements plans with our current plan. For our members, sudden changes in health insurance can drop coverage for doctors that graduate students have built long-term relationships with or have used for long periods of time to manage chronic health challenges. This is one instance where “comparable” coverage does not equate to “equal” coverage-the plan might cover a comparable doctor, but that doctor does not understand the graduate student as well as their previous doctor. Finally, the University can always investigate better health insurance plans for us. Any bargaining cycle they would like, they can bring the GTFF a plan that is better than what we already have. What they are asking now is not to give us a better plan, but rather to take whatever plan they decide is “comparable” to ours. How “comparable” it will be is up for debate, but no one will doubt that it’ll be cheaper for the University.
On the topic of summer tuition, the University wants our collective bargaining agreement to make specific note that some research grants have specific amounts laid out for paying tuition, and asking advisors to pay for summer tuition could result in funding running out early. While this is technically true, their phrasing definitely feels more like a threat than just “making GTFs aware of this.” Trust us, we’re aware of how people need to manage their funds. The University also asks to change the “summer sandwich” to allow only GTFs who have teaching appointments 2 terms in the first academic year and an appointment in the fall of the 2nd year to get a summer tuition waiver for the summer between the two years (rather than needing 2 terms of GTF appointment in one of the years and one term in the other year, in any combination). The University wishes to adjust the incidental fees paid by GTFs to a percentage basis that fluctuates between the academic year and summer term, a suggestion that the University admits “could” increase the amount of fees paid by GTFs and “could” thicken the change purse of the University. In other financial news, the University again stated they cannot afford to pay for any sick or parental leave. When asking why they would not grant us parental leave, Amber got a one word response: “finances”.
And that’s really the core of the all their issues: cost to the University. You would think from their proposals and bargaining table demeanor, the University would be in financial trouble, but over the past two years (2012-2014) the University has increased their tuition revenue by 11.3 million dollars, while only increasing their academic expenditures by 1.1 million dollars. So they have increased their tuition-related profits by over 10,000,000 dollars, and that is on top of the almost 99,000,000 dollars profit they turned in 2012. The University’s bargaining team said the university can only afford to invest another 1.732 million dollar in graduate students, but that is clearly not the case. That’s just a fraction of what they can afford. Where is that 10,000,000 dollars going? Certainly not to graduate students who need paternity leave, a cost the university claims is outrageous at an estimated quarter million dollars. Definitely not to increased vision coverage that would cost the University just around 300 thousand dollars by doubling coverage for all GTFs. We account for 1/3 of all teaching hours at the University. Shouldn’t we have access to 1/3 of the teaching-based profits the University is generating? They could at least earmark some of those funds for us. Or, as Jeff said this week, “funds are funds and can be used in different ways.” Let’s see some of those ways funds can be spent actually benefit the people who work to make the University a stellar academic institution.
Thanks for reading. We look forward to seeing you at the next bargaining session on Friday, February 7th, from 3:30-6:30pm, in the EMU Ben Linder Room.
The GTFF Bargaining Committee