The GTFF and University of Oregon Administration’s bargaining teams held a bargaining session on June 30th. The GTFF presented proposals on all still open contract articles. These proposals were not agreed to by the Administration and they have reached out to the Oregon Employee Relations Board and asked for a mediator to help the two sides come to an agreement. More bargaining sessions will be held once the state assigns a mediator, a process that could take numerous weeks to finish, putting the next sessions probably sometime in August.
A complete report of the bargaining session on June 30th follows.
GTFF Bargaining Summary and Look Ahead – June 30, 2014
Written by Richard Wagner (Physics) of the GTFF Bargaining Committee
During the Monday, June 30th GTFF-University of Oregon Administration bargaining session, the GTFF offered the following proposals on all still open issues:
Article 9: Work Agreement/Work Assignment
The GTFF reiterated their previous proposal to have a more binding workload allocation form. The GTFF bargaining team continued to not be moved by the Administration’s concerns about administrative overhead to keep records of workload allocation forms. The team feels benefits afforded to GTFF workloads more than outweighs the overhead of filing and retrieving these forms. Following the natural workload crunch that comes at the end of an academic term, the GTFF has heard many concerns about workload from its members. The workload allocation forms are designed specifically to address these issues and keeping records of all of these forms benefit GTFs in the future by helping them be better equipped to manage their time, leading to more efficient and overall better teaching practices. They also allow GTFs a natural way to address workload issues with their supervisors, rather than encouraging GTFs to file grievances, as the current system entails.
Article 18: Summer Session
As both teams have affectively agreed to language in this article, the GTFF proposed possibly removing this article from the grouped financial package and signing off on it to include in the new CBA (“TAing it”). The Administration thinks it is better to keep it included in the package, and could not agree to TA the article. Thus, it remains open for future alteration if need be.
Article 21: Salary
The GTFF’s bargaining team appreciated the efforts of the University to make progress towards a GTFF living wage in their previous proposals, but did not feel the Administration’s proposals went far enough. In light of the GTF Health and Welfare Trust’s changes to next year’s GTFF health insurance, the GTFF was about to remove around 1.5 million dollars over the life of the CBA from the GTFF proposed financial package (due to the GTFF Health and Welfare Trust achieving major dental and improved vision coverage without increased premiums). Some of these savings, the GTFF shifted into proposed GTF salaries. The GTFF proposed a 6.1% raise to all GTF level minimum wages. This is an increase of around $173,000 from their previous 5.5% proposed wage increase, resulting in an overall reduction of the size of the proposed GTF financial package by $1.3 million. As the GTFF has made clear throughout bargaining, they are interested in having all GTFs, regardless of GTF level or FTE appointment, be paid a wage that meets the cost of living. An even, across the board, increase to the minimum rate for all levels is the best method for doing so, as it will allow GTFs at levels 2 and 3, paid at the minimum, but with less than a 0.5 FTE, to come closer to meeting the cost of living.
Article 22: Tuition/Fees
Similar to article 18, as the most recent proposals by both teams are identical, the GTFF suggested removing this article from the financial package and TAing it. Again, the Administration wanted to keep it as a portion of the overall package.
Article 23: Health Insurance
The GTFF bargaining team accepted some changes made by the Administration, but was unable to accept a few proposals. The GTFF bargaining team felt formal language to pay health insurance premiums quarterly was unwise. While it is the current system to make quarterly payments, both the GTFF and University has stated in the past they’d like to move to monthly payments once it becomes administratively feasible to do so. Thus, we should not limit this mutually agreed upon goal. Additionally, it is possible that, in the future, our insurance provider could request monthly payments of premiums, a desire the GTFF would like to have the Trust be able to meet, especially if it could aid in decreasing insurance costs.
The GTFF continued to resist a premium increase cap, feeling that the current fixed 95/5% split in premium costs is the best way to share financial risk associated with health insurance. With this fixed split, both sides absorb an equal proportion of the risk that neither party can control. A cap risks shifting more of the financial risk onto graduate students, who are much, much more financially vulnerable to large increases in insurance costs. As an alternative method to keep costs in check, the GTFF reiterated their offer to prevent the Trust from expanding healthcare benefits without bringing them to the bargaining table. These two GTFF proposals gives the University and GTFF oversight in increased costs which the Trust can control, while evenly and fairly sharing risk between the two in dealing with increased costs the Trust cannot control.
The GTFF bargaining team also had concerns with the Administration’s calls to reimburse the University for any premium payments returned to the Trust. In the event that there is an overpayment of premiums or less than expected utilization of healthcare, it is possible for GTF’s health insurance provider to return some payments to the GTFF Health and Welfare Trust. While the Administration asked for the appropriate proportion of these returns to be given to the University, the GTFF bargaining team noted that the law prevents the Trust from doing so. Additionally, if the Trust is granted a premium credit for any reason from an insurance provider, the GTFF would like to give the Trust to retain flexibility to use this credit as they judge best (for example, to save the credit and apply it in years when the premium grows greatly), rather than use the credit immediately as proposed previously by the Administration. This allows for better long-term financial management of GTFF health insurance by the Trust and continues to give it autonomy to manage health insurance.
Article 28: Paid Leave
The GTFF reiterated its previous proposals for 6 weeks of paid medical leave and 6 weeks of paid parental leave annually for all GTFs. After investigating, the GTFF noted that the previous Administration claim that no University employees employed for under 0.5 FTE has access to paid leave is not supported by facts as the SEIU contract allows for paid leave for all SEIU employees, including those under 0.5 FTE. The GTFF bargaining team has repeatedly said they are willing to negotiate the exact plan for paid leave, but is not interested in negotiating with themselves over how paid leave is implemented. As the membership has repeatedly voted paid leave as a high priority, the GTFF bargaining team will continue to press for its original proposal until the Administration provides some movement to provide leave to graduate students or can satisfactorily explain why GTFs do not deserve paid leave. So far, the Administration’s arguments of “no one else gets it” and “no where in our $440 million budget or $70 million surplus1 can we find $900 to give a GTF 6 weeks of leave ” are not satisfactory as they are not rooted in fact. Even taking all the nearly 1500 GTFs into account, the GTFF estimates both forms of paid leave to cost the University around $100,000 per year, just 0.022% of the University’s operating budget or 0.14% of its $70 million surplus.
Specifically with respect to parental leave, former GTFF President David Craig noted the arguments made by noted expert Dr. Scott Coltrane this past month at a White House panel2:
Coltrane said such policies allow companies to hire and retain more qualified workers and save money on recruiting and training costs. And flexible scheduling and leaves are associated with higher job satisfaction and happier marriages, as well as less stressful parenting…
But Coltrane said signs of change are emerging and employers are slowly realizing that to attract the best workers they need to have more family-friendly policies, for men as well as women.
“I think the underlying message is it’s not a worker rights issue. It’s more like this is the reality of family life today, and businesses that want to be successful will develop the policies needed to allow employees to balance family and work,” he said.
David emphasized that these benefits apply to the institution that is providing parental leave, not to just its employees. It is truly in the interest of the University to provide parental leave to its employees, including GTFs. The source of David’s arguments is of particular note as Scott Coltrane is the University of Oregon’s Provost and the person whom the Administration’s bargaining team has stated is making the decisions on behalf of the Administration with respect to GTFF bargaining. The GTFF urges Dr. Coltrane to listen to his own suggestions to allow the University to “hire and retain more qualified workers,” “save money on recruiting and training costs,” “attract the best workers,” and “be successful” by providing paid parental leave to GTFs.
Articles 31/33: Successor Agreement
The GTFF proposed that the next round of bargaining start slightly earlier than this round, calling for it begin no later than October 1st, 2015 (as opposed to bargaining beginning by Nov. 15th, 2014 during this current bargaining cycle). This would hopefully allow more serious bargaining to occur during the Fall Quarter, allow much progress to be made during the Winter quarter, with the hopes that bargaining can be finished before the Spring Quarter begins, or at least sometime before the summer.
The GTFF continued to press for the University of Oregon Board of Trustees to ratify the GTFF CBA on behalf of the University, rather than the Administration’s proposal that the University President do so. The President has always played an important role in bargaining, and the GTFF hopes he (or she, in the future) continues to do so, but the final ratification has always been done by the state Board of Higher Education. Never in the nearly 40 year history of the GTFF has the University President ratified a GTFF CBA. The GTFF knows of no University anywhere where the President ratifies a graduate student union’s contract. It is always done by a Board of Trustees or Board of Regents. The GTFF is both uncomfortable with taking such a wide step away from historic and national precedent and feels the Board of Trustees is the more appropriate authority to ratify an agreement.
The GTFF also disagreed with the Administration’s legal interpretation of “permissive” bargaining topics. At the beginning of a bargaining cycle, both sides state what portions of the CBA they wish to open up for negotiations. Either side has the power to decline to negotiate a portion of the CBA, labeling it permissive. Permissive topics are then left unchanged during negotiations. The Administration has taken the stance that they have the power to declare that who ratifies the CBA is not up for negotiation (i.e. it is permissive), and thus they have the unilateral authority to list whoever they want as their ratifying body. The GTFF bargaining team disagrees with this interpretation and questions why the Administration continues to bring the issue to the GTFF to bargain over if they truly feel they have the unilateral authority to make this change.
Scheduling issues on both sides of the bargaining table prevent another bargaining session from being held before the last week of July. The GTFF will keep its members, and the public, informed as to when that session has been scheduled. During that time, the GTFF hopes the Administration has a serious internal discussion about what the GTFF has presented to them. The GTFF membership has made its desires clearly known. The GTFF bargaining team has laid out the reasoning behind for those desires, reflecting on benefits to GTFs and to the University. These desires promote the financial, physical and mental wellbeing of graduate students. Health, happy and well informed graduate students provide better education for undergraduates, a stronger research base and an overall better academic climate on campus. Strong employment benefits including paid leave, controlled student fees, and a wage that meets costs of living allow the University to better attract and retain the top graduate students and give the University the tools to improve its academic standing on an international level. The GTFF bargaining team has investigated University finances and clearly demonstrated the financial feasibility of its requests. OUS financial records reveal the University’s $10 million profit from just this past academic year and an overall surplus of more than $70 million in tuition and fee related funds, both amounts which easily cover the $2.05 million increased investment in GTFs the union has proposed over the two years of the new contract. A decade of continued financial growth and stability for the University has afforded the Administration the means make this investment in its graduate students to improve the quality of education at the University of Oregon. The Administration has been making great strides towards doing so, but have been reluctant to make that final push to offer a contract that GTFs are willing to agree to. The GTFF bargaining team has made clear the changes they hope to see from the Administration and have even offered places where we are willing to make compromises, but are waiting for the Administration to find the will to work with us in those areas. Hopefully an extended summer break during the month of July will allow the Administration to regroup and reevaluate their proposals and priorities.
The GTFF hopes to welcome new GTFs to campus this fall with a fair and reasonable tentative agreement ready for ratification vote by all members, which includes meeting the bottom lines set by our membership: a living wage, no cap on premium increases that erode our benefits in future years, maintain our $61 contribution to campus fees, and some form of paid medical and parental leave. We already achieved getting major dental and improved vision on our own through our Health and Welfare Trust, now we await the administration to work just as hard to invest in GTFs to meet ALL four bottom line issues. The members set a very clear line for the administration to meet. We don’t want to strike, but we will.
1Budget and surplus information from Oregon University System State Board of Higher Education Finance and Administration Meeting on May 16, 2014 – UofO information on appendix pdf page 167 – available at http://www.ous.edu/sites/ous.edu/files/dept/board/appendices20140516.pdf
2 As reported in Around the O: http://around.uoregon.edu/content/provost-speaks-white-house-panel-discussion-fatherhood