Bargaining Update – April 25, 2014

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Before returning to our own update, the University Administration has been releasing their own bargaining updates. Their update for the most recent session is available here. Unfortunately, the Administration has left out some important details from their update. Here is an annotated version of their update (click to enlarge).

gtf-response-to-admin

An update from a member of GTFF bargaining committee follows.

 

 

Before opening the floor to a frustrated GTF, we would first like to recognize important movement made by the Administration. They have dropped language from their most recent proposals about eliminating the GTFF Trust. This is an issue of major importance to GTFs, and we had made this extremely clear to the Administration. The Administration also accepted the GTFF proposal to restructure summer tuition waivers, granting waivers to all GTFs who have been employed from 2 terms in the academic year preceding the summer (as opposed to also requiring an additional appointment in the following year). This is a serious issue for GTFs intending to graduate during summer terms as under previous language these graduate students would have had to pay tuition while finishing up their degrees. The GTF is thrilled that the Administration has made movement towards us on these important topics and we hope the good will garnered here carries us to a swift conclusion of the bargaining cycle.

 

GTFF Bargaining Summary and Look Ahead – April 29th, 2014

Written by Richard Wagner (Physics) of the GTFF Bargaining Committee

I am angry. Last week I was frustrated. But now, I’m angry. The University of Oregon Administration is clearly not invested in its graduate students. The Administration can hand their lead negotiator statements to read that claim to recognize the importance of graduate students, but until they back up their claims by offers at the table that actually show that they value their graduate students, it is all just lip service. We have spent months at the bargaining table, carefully laying out in detail why the proposals the GTFF has brought forward are critically important to our members. We have heard testimony from dozens of graduate students why those proposals matter to them. We’ve heard from multiple members at the table from the larger academic community about why they feel our proposals are both in the interest of the University and how our proposals are justifiable morally. We laid out the minimal cost to the University to implement our proposals. And the Administration still does not care. After the Administration continued to push their original proposals at the last session, I was personally pessimistic of what counter proposals the Administration would have to offer this week. But I did not expect their counter proposals to be nearly entirely regressive. I feel insulted and angry. But you aren’t here to hear about how I feel. You want to know what you might have missed at the bargaining session, so let’s talk about that.

 

The Administration’s Financial Proposal

The Administration’s bargaining team began the session by reading a statement that laid out the series of counter proposals they had on the entirety of the financial package. These items were as follows:

  • No paid medical leave, no paid parental leave, no paid leave of any type
  • Fees are paid by GTFs at a rate of 12% of the total mandatory/incidental fee during the academic year and 88% during the summer
  • GTFs can continue to be laid off in the case where courses are canceled due to low enrollment
  • The minimum pay rates for GTFs are to increase by 2% in the first year of the contract and 2.5% for the second year
  • The University will only pay up to a 5% increase in health care premiums over the life of the new CBA

The first three items are identical to their original positions (No. NO. NO!), and that is okay, for now. The idea of packaging these financial items as the GTFF and Administration have agreed to do, allows for this. Not changing positions on specific financial package items is acceptable as long as the entire financial package is making movement towards the other side. This is how progress is made. So this means that the last two items need to make movement towards meeting the GTFF proposal, but they don’t.

The original university proposals were for 1.5% and 2% raises and a cap of 10% over the life of the CBA (which is not a point the GTFF understood until this session). What the Administration claims to have happened is they made progress towards the GTFF in shifting their funding offer from their healthcare and placing in it GTF wages. What they neglect to mention, and as was pointed out astutely by bargaining team member Dave “Hot Tubs of Money” Grych, is the Administration also happened to lose a few hundred thousands dollars offered to GTFs during that shifting is funding. With their increase in pay rates, the Administration offered to commit a GTFF estimated additional $107,000 dollars to their wage proposal. The savings to the University due to their changes to the healthcare premium is much, much less than this.

The original offer of a 10% cap on healthcare premium rates paid by the University would, at worst, increase the University expenses on healthcare by about $1.4 million dollars over the life of the CBA (this assumes the first year sees a 10% premium increase, and the 2nd year sees a 0% premium increase). The change to 5% cuts this in half. If there is a 5% increase in the first year and 0% in the second, the University would invest about an extra $700,000 over the life of the CBA in GTFF healthcare premiums. So the Administration took an offer of $1.4 million dollars (which the Administration made clear in previous bargaining sessions is the bulk of the $1.73 million dollars they originally offered to GTFs) dropped that offer by $700,000, and then offered just $107,000 of that go towards GTF wages. That is not progress.

When pressed on this point, the Administration made the decision to begin discussing risk management, a point they will eventually regret bringing up. The Administration claimed that their offer of 5% was an increase in the offer they made to GTFs. Their argument was that the GTFF would be very unlikely to see a premium increase of 10% over 2 years, so the Administration wouldn’t actually end up paying this 10%. But the GTFF would probably definitely hit 5% – largely by giving themselves extra benefits to make sure it hit 5%. Thus, while the overall “ceiling” of the 5% offer might be lower than 10% offer, the “floor” of the 5% offer is a solid 5%, while the 10% offer has a floor that is less than this. There are a ton of problems with this argument. Here are a handful!

  • The average annual increase in healthcare premiums, even without expanding benefits, is somewhere in the 9-10% range. Assuming that we aren’t going to come near 10% is wrong. That’s what we’ve been doing, on average, for a decade. A 5% cap and an average 10% increase in premiums can only be solved by continually cutting GTFF benefits. The GTFF has reason to believe that the premium increase for the next year will be far below this 10%, but we have no way of knowing what it will be in the year after that.
  • The floor vs. ceiling argument is absurd. There is no floor. There is just a ceiling. Claiming that the GTFF can add benefits to hit 5%, but not 10% is ridiculous. The Administration continued to acknowledge that the GTFF Health and Welfare Trust has the power to add benefits at any time, so believing they wouldn’t do that in a world of a 10% cap, but they would in a world of a 5% cap is not a good one. I am not saying that the Trust is planning to throw in extra benefits to push up the cost to both its members and the University in order to hit a cap, but believing that a 5% cap is “generous” in order to allow the Trust to expand benefits to hit that cap, but the same argument wouldn’t apply to a 10% cap is, to be blunt, stupid.
  • As mentioned in previous bargaining sessions and reiterated in this session by GTFF bargaining team member and Trust member, Steve McAllister, due to the overall structuring of the premium rates paid by each party (GTF and University), a 1% increase in total premiums that must be covered by GTFFs would result in a 20% increase in the premium rate paid by each GTF. A quick estimate by Steve during the session demonstrated that if this proposal were in effect during the previous premium readjustment, GTF premium rates would have increased to $235 per quarter, up from $61 paid in the previous year. That is an increase in 288% in premiums paid to GTFs. This would have been a huge financial burden on GTFs.
  • As an alternative to seeing a huge increase in healthcare premiums, the trust could also slash benefits for GTFs to decrease healthcare costs to its members. When this concern was presented to the Administration’s team, they suggested the Trust could get rid of benefits that GTFs aren’t using. While this makes a little sense, health insurance companies also have access to usage rates and aren’t going to charge top dollar for benefits no one is using. Stopping paying things for aren’t very expensive isn’t going to save money on a scale that won’t require a cutting of important GTF benefits. The Administration is effectively asking the Trust to decide which benefits that GTFs use are least important to them and cut those benefits.

Does my anger make more sense? Not only is the Administration reducing their overall financial offer to GTFs by hundreds of thousands of dollars, they have also changed their proposals in a way that would result in either slashing of GTF healthcare benefits or dramatically increasing GTF spending on healthcare. That is NOT valuing your employees. That is NOT going to help your students grow as individuals, intellectuals, and teachers. I’m angry, and it appears the GTFs who were in attendance agreed with me.

 

The Caucus

After hashing out the Administration’s financial proposals, our lead negotiator, Amber, called for a caucus. At the caucus, we were joined by a bunch of members of the other Unions on Campus and the community at large. We want to thank those people. Kira Homo, the Executive Council Secretary for United Academics shared that she felt the Administration was being even more condescending towards GTFs than they were towards the United Academics during their bargaining. Another UA member, shared that their bargaining really turned around when UA substantially increased their membership turn out to bargaining sessions, putting a lot of pressure on the Administration. She was encouraged of our already well attended sessions, but called for us to continue to turn out more members to come to sessions. David Rives, president of our parent organization AFT Oregon, was in attendance. He pushed us onward in our battle and noted that GTF healthcare is a relatively minor cost of the University in both absolute terms (the University regularly manages hundreds of millions of dollars and our proposals are much, much cheaper than that) and relative terms, in that GTFF has a much younger membership base and most other unions and healthcare costs scale dramatically with age. The Staff Organizer for our friends in CGE at Oregon State, Ashely Bromley (or “CGE-Amber”) was also present to show the support of CGE to the GTFF. She said that Oregon State graduate students pay much higher health care premium rates than GTFs and those higher rates are a serious burden on their members, so we should continue to push back against attempts to increase our membership’s contributions to healthcare. We were also visited by numerous members of SEIU. In a very tense and frustrating bargaining session where we were continually put down and devalued by the Administration, it was extremely heartwarming to hear from our allies in other Unions that they value our work and desire for us to reach higher heights than the Administration seems to want us to reach. It is good to know we have friends across campus and across the state who are willing to stand by our sides and fight – as we will always be willing and excited to do for them. Your value to us is incalculable and we thank you all for your commitment to us.

As for GTFs during the caucus, many questions were asked to clarify points made at the table and many GTFs shared that they were frustrated with the Administration’s proposals. After some debate, the membership came the conclusion that they understood where the Administration stood and were unhappy with it. Continuing to sit and listen to the Administration’s bargaining team was not going to do any good, so their time would better be spent elsewhere. The large mass of members, who filled every seat in the bargaining ream and still left dozens of GTFs sitting on the floor or standing against the wall, left the bargaining room and stormed outside en masse. Their chants and cheers for the rights they want and deserve from outside of Lillis could be heard in the bargaining room and throughout the building, and hopefully carried all the way to the Johnson Hall where the Administration already got a dose of frustration earlier in the day. From being in the room with the Administration’s bargaining team while our members expressed themselves loudly and proudly from outside, I could tell they were unnerved by it. Even sitting feet from the bargaining table, I could barely hear the discussion over my friends and allies venting their frustrations publicly. I could see the looks of worry in the Administration’s team’s faces as their eyes darted between our bargaining team and the open window where an unhappy throng of GTFs waited. Your display of power and anger unnerved the Administration’s team. We are not a group to be pushed around and disrespected. We are a united front who they must take seriously. Hopefully they now know that.

 

Continued Bargaining

While our membership expressed their anger outside, the bargaining session continued on. A serious point of emphasis made by the GTFF bargaining team at the table was to stress that all of the Administration’s proposals pushed as much financial risk onto GTFs as they could. They are asking us to risk losing our jobs by being laid off from working for courses with low enrollment. They are asking us to continue to risk our vision and dental health by having too low, or no, coverage for these in our health insurance plan. We are to take on a huge portion of the risk associated with fees, as the Administration does have control over the fee rates, while GTFs have none. We risk our mental health and work quality by having to find time in an already cramped schedule to make up the time when needing time off due to illness. We risk our health and wellbeing by being underpaid to the point we cannot afford to live comfortably in Eugene according to the University’s own estimates. The Administration is asking us to take on even more risk in shouldering the bulk of premium increases on our healthcare plan in the future. GTFs cannot afford financially and personally to take on all this risk while the University sits back in relative comfort. The University has the means and funds to easily deal with these issues, but they are just refusing.

The GTFF bargaining team shared many of the frustrations and concerns expressed by our members during the caucus to the Administration’s team. Much of this lead to debate on risks and a reiteration of many of the points above about the Administration’s regressive healthcare cap. In addition, Amber stressed the difference between an increase in healthcare premium increases due to an expansion of benefits and due to uncontrollable market forces. The GTFF is not interested in increasing premiums by expanding benefits without the consent of the Administration. That is why we have brought expanded vision and major dental to the bargaining table. The Trust has the power to add these anytime they wish, but does not view that as a fair thing to do to the University. In this regard, we are being responsible. Premium rates can also increase due to market forces that the Trust has no control over. Our members need to use their insurance in widely varying amounts each year and that contributes to adjustments in the premium. Years where GTFs cost our health insurance company a lot of money, because many of them need to have expensive procedures for any number of unpredictable reasons, result in the premium going up. Treatments and doctor visits can become more expensive over time, additionally increasing premium costs. These things the GTFF Trust has no control over. Punishing GTFs for something they cannot do anything about by asking them to slash benefits or double or triple their out of pocket expenses for healthcare is unfair.

The post caucus session also took a look at a few opened, unfinished, but none financial articles. The GTFF reiterated their desire for fraction calculation sheets and even expressed a willingness to accept language that would give departments a protocol to opt out of fraction calculation sheets if they so desire, but still have these be the default method for departments to manage GTF time commitments. The Administration stated they were seriously concerned with the administrative time needed to implement fraction calculation sheets, but did express a willingness to more seriously consider this and investigate how various departments might view this change to how they manage GTFs.

Another short discussion on a GTFs responsibility for keeping their work spaces clean was had. Both sides seemed to be in agreement that the Administration proposed language was not intended to add to the work load of GTFs, but the Administration was still concerned and seemed reluctant to include language that references other portions of the CBA which lay out GTF time commitments. The Administration stated they were worried about the GTFF’s interpretation of the time commitment language, but did admit that this language was not opened for negotiation. Hopefully, the Administration finds itself also willing to agree that they are bound to this unchanged language in all parts of the CBA.

On GTF paid fees, the Administration offered language to list out the fees paid by GTFs as requested by the GTF. The bargaining team was able to get the Administration to agree that all new fees would also be encompassed by this language even if their titles aren’t listed in the CBA. We are still not in agreement in how much in fees GTFs should pay.

The GTFF bargaining team asked to clarify a Administration proposal in requiring summer courses with tuition waives be for the advancement of a GTFs degree. Being a political science major whose focus is on a region of the world, she was concerned with not having language courses covered under this language. These language courses are not a requirement of her program, but are necessary for her to do her research and work in this field. The Administration stated that these courses would definitely be covered under their interpretation of their language and that they were mostly concerned with things such as gym courses taken by GTFs (unless those courses are necessary as is occasionally the case in the School of Music and Dance).

Both sides discussed the layoff proposal, with both sides sticking to their original proposals: no layoffs by the GTFF and yes layoffs! by the Administration. These layoffs are associated with GTFs having their job offers and signed contracts rescinded due to low enrollment in a course they were to teach. Both sides were in agreement that very few layoffs occur, but the GTFF’s bargaining team really pushed the idea that when layoffs due occur, they are very financially burdensome on GTFs, resulting in GTFs loosing their jobs, health insurance, taking out loans and possibly needing to drop out of their programs. Amber asked if the Administration had looked into her prior suggestion that departments consider holding off on making appointments for courses where they are unsure of the enrollment figures, but only make those offers after they know a course will be held. The Administration stated this was a complicated process that is constantly evolving and they’d need more time to consider and investigate this suggestion.

The Administration asked for the GTF to look into figures for the number of incoming international GTFs to get an idea of what kind of expense they might fast in accepting GTF language for the University to compensate international GTFs for some fees (REVIS fees) associated with their visas.

On the topic of paid leave, the GTFF bargaining team logged a concern by a GTF during the caucus that the Administration’s argument that no employees on campus under a 0.49FTE get paid leave so GTFs should not, does not make any sense because GTFs are the only employees under a 0.49FTE. Saying that GTFs should not get get paid leave because GTFs do not already get paid leave will not resonant with anybody. The Administration answered by saying other groups do work under a 0.49 FTE, but was not able to give any more specifics. The GTFF response was that the only group that might also fall into this category are work-study undergraduates, but GTFs are very different than this group, and comparing the two is also not an argument GTFs would be willing to listen to.

The chemistry professor on the Administration’s bargaining team wanted to discuss summer tuition a little bit. He desired the opinion of the GTFF bargaining team on the possible situation where a GTFF could take summer classes, but due to budget constraints tied to research grants funding the GTF, paying the tuition for a GTF during the summer might result in the GTF losing funding for a research position during the academic year. Specifically, Mark wanted to know if the GTFF would take issue with an advisor and GTF sitting down to have this discussion and allowing for a GTF to decide how they would like their advisor to use this money. The GTFF was concerned that even if this was done with the best of intentions, it could easily be interpreted as trying to coerce a GTF into not taking classes and this would put the GTF in a very uncomfortable position. Ultimately, this problem is a direct result of the funding model implemented by the University a handful of years ago that removed real tuition waivers and forced departments to pay for all credit hours taken by their graduate students. This is not a change that can be made at the bargaining table, but the Administration should definitely look into the serious ramifications that this model causes.

Oh boy, now we get interesting. Upon Amber closing the arguments she wanted to give the Administration to consider, she asked if other bargaining team members had questions or concerns they’d like to address. Dave Grych reminded the Administration that their own figures showed a $29 million profit turned by the University’s E&G fund (the fund that the Administration says is available to pay for GTFs) in the last fiscal year. He wanted to know where this money went and how it was being spent. The Administration’s answer was unfocused and unhelpful. They claimed they hadn’t looked at these figures in a while so were not sure, insisted the documents said where this money went, suggested that a lot of it was going to the faculty, and continued to press their point that the University was in dire financial straits. None of this address Dave’s concern about a clear $29 million profit not being large enough to find room for the GTFs financial proposals.

GTFF president David Craig took the floor and addressed the Administration’s bargaining team members who were University Employees (all but lead negotiator Jeff). David stated that in nearly all his interactions with members of the campus community, from GTFs, to undergraduates, to faculty, to staff, and even to the parents of students, they all were in agreement that GTFs should be paid at levels that allow them to live in Eugene. It was, to reiterated the point made previously by Director of Graduate Studies for the Department of Philosophy Scott Pratt, the moral thing to do. If the rest of the campus is on board, why isn’t the Administration?

I really butchered that. I can’t do David’s statement justice. It was absolutely beautiful. Were I not the lone observer of the bargaining session, I would assuredly joined the GTFF membership in erupting in applause after David’s statement. Every single GTF should be proud to be lead by a President who can speak so eloquently on the behalf of his membership. We will sorely miss his enthusiasm, skill and leadership when his term ends in a few weeks and when he ultimately moves on from the GTFF to what is sure to be a bright future. You didn’t expect a surprise eulogy, did you David?

David then asked these University employees how they felt about an institution they care about and work for not paying its employees a wage that allows them to even just get by. The rest of the campus community is in agreement that GTFs deserve more than they are getting, do the employees on the bargaining team agree. His question was quickly deflected by lead negotiator Jeff who stated those at the table were not there as employees, but as a vessel for the Administration to speak through. Continued discussion around this topic made it seem very clear to the GTFF bargaining team that Jeff was being honest: the Administration’s bargaining team was carrying out the will of administrators above them.

 

And maybe that is the problem the GTFF has been having all along. If we are ultimately bargaining with Administrators who have never showed their face at bargaining sessions, we need to address this group in addition to putting pressure on their bargaining team. The Rally at Johnson Hall was a good way to do that. They definitely could hear us then, but we need them to hear us more. The GTFF needs to increase its presence in the media, both traditional and social, to demonstrate to the public what we are fighting for any why it matters to us. If they aren’t concerned with GTFs, the Administration is definitely concerned with their image. Let’s use that to our advantage. The Contract Campaign Committee is working on a method to expose the public to individual GTFs on a personal level. Consider offering a short statement about yourself as a GTF and what some of the bargaining items would mean to you. The GTFF is involved with a larger labor May Day Rally on May 1st on the East Stairs of PLC, so come to that to show the Administration what kind of larger labor community we work with. Bring your friends to future bargaining sessions and actions to increase the GTF turn out. Fire off tweets and facebook posts about the GTFF to spread our message. Consider writing a letter to the editor of a regional (or national if you are feeling adventurous) news outlet to help expose the public to the labor struggle being undertaken by the GTFF. All of these things will get back to the Administration – they will read and hear about it. We can defeat them in the court of public opinion, but we need your help.