Bargaining Update from Feb. 14

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What follows is an update from the Feb. 14th bargaining session. The next session is Friday Feb. 21st in Lillis 112 from 3:30-6:30pm.

GTFF Bargaining Summary and Look Ahead – February 19th, 2014 

I don’t know if it was the promise of a romantic evening to follow or what, but, with the exception of a few hot button issues, the latest bargaining sessions (Feb. 14th) was pretty civil and much agreement was had between both sides. There were even 5 articles TA’ed (tentatively agreed upon – the two sides agree on the new language of one article in our collective bargaining agreement (CBA) and sign off on it to be preserved as is until a final version of the new CBA is in place). Even so, a few sticking points were present on other articles. These include topics such as GTFs covering the workload of striking workers, handling of GTF personnel files, and virtually all of the GTFF’s main bargaining priorities. Before we get to be frustrated, let’s look at the good things first. The table that follows details all articles TA’ed by the University and the GTFF so far.

 

Article

TAed by whom?

Description of change

Article 3 – Union Rights

GTFF Accepts

University asked for requests for GTFs to take time off to do union work be made in writing.

Article 12 – Evaluations

University Accepts

Some language changes and limit GTF evaluations to just once per term. The GTFF suggested some wording changes to make the intent of the University’s changes clearer.

Article 15 – Arbitration

University Accepts

Some language changes and limits on who the arbitrator can be. University wanted an increase to 30 days to be the goal to meet with the arbitrator, but the GTFF asked to stick to 15 days as GTF appointment times are pretty short and issues need to be resolved as quickly as possible. University accepted keeping the current language of 15 days.

Article 30 – Severability

GTFF Accepts

Just a title change of the article. This article deals with the procedure in handling the possibility of a federal or state judge striking down part of the CBA in court.

Article 32 – Printing and Distribution of the Contract

University Accepts

University wanted to stop being required to print any copies of the CBA for the GTFF, but the GTFF pointed out situations where paper copies of the CBA could be necessary. The sides agreed on 75 copies (down from 200) to be printed.

 

In addition to the TA’s above, agreement was nearly reached regarding several other articles that will hopefully be TA’ed soon:

  • For Article 4 (union dues/deductions/fair share members), both sides seemed to be roughly on the same page after some clarifying remarks by Amber, but the University needed to check on some timeframe details with the payroll department before any further agreement could be made.
  • On Article 13 (grievances) the GTFF was happy to accept most university language changes, but wanted to preserve some language that makes it explicit that any violation of our CBA is still a grievable violation even if it was done by mistake or in ignorance of what the CBA says.
  • Article 31 (negotiations of next contract) had some language modifications to reflect the new governing board of UO and the University requested the GTFF be able to ratify the new contract during the summer session. The GTFF declined this last idea, explaining that most GTFs aren’t members during the summer if they aren’t employed, so ratifying with the diminished membership of the summer would be undesirable. Kassie Fisher, Assistant Dean of the Graduate School, Director of Finance and Administration for the Graduate School and a key member of the University’s bargaining team, appeared to not be aware of the lapse in membership during the summer and said they’d re-evaluate the language.
  • Article 33 (notices and communication) removed reference to the prior University governing structure, but was left without a replacement for the new structure. Once the University figures out who and where to address things to, this should be very quick to TA.

Now, if you’ve read all of that carefully, you might notice that most of these are fairly benign topics of debate, and you’re right. They do not immediately reflect our bargaining priorities. Even so, they remain are important. Getting the clerical and non-controversial articles done now will give us more time to debate the important issues and shows that both sides are willing to make movement to get negotiations done—at least in principle.

So, that being said, how are things going with the articles that do immediately reflect the priorities we as the GTFF set and approved at the fall term GMM?

Meh, not so good. We are making progress on fairly simple requests: kitchen facilities and keeping work spaces cleaned, but progress with other priorities is more troublesome. Previously, the University pretty much just said “no” to all our proposals. At February 14th’s session, we only discussed 2 of our priorities – wireless access and major dental. The GTFF didn’t change it’s stance on wireless access as the University did not give any solid justification to deny it, nor make any attempt to work with us on the issue. The University’s bargaining team still doesn’t seem too keen on guaranteeing GTFs wireless access in locations where their job duties require wireless access (or requiring a change in duties if wireless isn’t available). They seem strictly concerned with cost and implementation, but continue to ignore our language that asks for wireless just in locations where GTFs need it to do their assigned duties or would force adjustments to work duties if wireless is needed but not available. We aren’t asking for universal access or even access in all places where GTFs go, just access where GTFs need to do work that requires wireless access.

The need for major dental coverage was a focus of the GTFF’s activities on Friday. In addition to the rally outside Johnson Hall, an event the GTFF feels quite pleased with, the GTFF bargaining team read written statements by 7 GTFs and had one GTF speak about her dental issues. The stories from GTFs were extremely personal and emotional. Collectively, their stories covered an enormous range of issues and causes. Some statements exposed chronic dental issues the GTF author has had for years, some dealt with issues form accidents, while some dealt with issues that can be traced to lacking oral health access during childhood. Some GTFs have had to permanently modify their chewing pattern to save themselves serious pain. A majority of the GTFs who submitted statements of spoke in person have been putting off their medical care because it is a cost they simply cannot afford. Some have had some dental work done, but have been putting off more permanent solutions due to the cost—constantly hoping the temporary dental work they have done doesn’t suddenly fail and leave them in intense pain. Those that went through with the necessary medical procedures incurred hundreds or thousands of dollars in debt, or had to ask their family for financial help, or raided their retirement accounts to afford the care they need. These “solutions”—debt or pain—aren’t acceptable in a professionalized academic workplace. They are a serious burden on the physical and mental health of graduate students—affecting both their work and the ways they are perceived by those around them. This is a problem the University has the power to solve. And yet, their sole response to our major dental proposal has been to try to completely rewrite our health insurance plan—without oversight from the GTFF. Hopefully, the University will change its tone during the next bargaining session. If not, it will be a very telling statement as to how much the University values its graduate employees as human beings.

While not one of the GTFF’s bargaining priorities initially, the University and GTFF found themselves at odds over the policy concerning GTF coverage of the work duties of striking workers. The University wants to adjust our CBA to allow them to ask GTFs to cover the work duties of other union workers in the event these latter go on strike. The GTFF responded by declining this suggestion and making it explicit that any GTFs who volunteers to perform duties for striking workers get paid for that work. The University agreed that “obviously if they do some work, they are going to be compensated for it” (that’s a quote and an idea we hope they continue to believe in when suggesting sick GTFs just ask some of their friends to cover their classes). They made clear that their intent in changing the current CBA language was to be allowed to ask GTFs to scab for striking workers. The GTFF is not interested in allowing this to happen. The other union workers are our allies. We must continue to support each other in the struggle to protect our rights, especially when they are being infringed upon by our employers. Even just asking GTFs to work puts them in an uncomfortable position vis-à-vis their friends and coworkers in other unions. It also creates an awkward atmosphere between GTFs as they must now have a conversation about the possibility of scabbing. Additionally, allowing a supervisor to ask an employee to do work that does not fit into their work duty can be uncomfortable for GTFs who wish to decline, but fear upsetting their supervisor for fear of possible retribution. For these reasons, the GTFF continues to rebut allowing the university to ask GTFs to scab.

The bargaining team would like to continue to thank our supporters around campus. We’ve had official statements of support from our friends at SEIU and UA . Both other unions (and our allies at SLAP) sent representatives and speakers to our Major Dental Rally earlier in the day on Feb. 14th. Your support is invaluable to us and our commitment to you is unwavering. We are all in this together.

We also want to thank the GTFs who turned out to the Rally and the bargaining session. We are working as hard as we are to support you, we are thrilled you are also supporting us. A special thanks to Rachel Winchester from Music and Dance for helping us out for being our Tooth Fairy at the rally on Friday. You did a fantastic job, thank you. Finally, thanks to all the GTFs who sent statements to the bargaining table, spoke at the table or spoke at the rally. Speaking on personal health issues can be very difficult, we applaud your strength to speak out and thank you for your beautifully written statements.

The next bargaining session, scheduled for Feb. 21st, should be very lively. The GTFF will make formal responses to the University’s proposals regarding healthcare, wages and other economics-related articles. At the Feb. 14th session, the GTFF presented the University with some quick data on the historic discrepancy between the University’s own recommended cost of living figure and the wage income GTFs actually earn. This gap has closed very little over the past 6 years (3 bargaining cycles) and continues to leave many GTFs more than $280 short every month, even before taxes are removed. We compared the University’s and the GTFF’s wage proposals in this regard. The University’s proposal decreases the gap by less than $30 over the next two years, while the GTFF’s proposal closes the gap almost entirely. As a whole, the GTFF bargaining team is pleased to see movement and get some TA’s done, but still frustrated to not have movement on our top 3 priorities (a cost of living wage increase, major dental, and parental leave). We are hopeful, though, that the University will take our proposals more seriously at the next session.