Bargaining Update – March 21st Session

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The GTFF and the UofO Administration held the final bargaining session before the current GTFF collective bargaining agreement expired on March 31st. Following is a summary of that session.

The next bargaining session, and first of the Spring Quarter, will be held on April 11th at 3:30pm in Lillis 112. This session will be immediately followed by a GTFF General Membership Meeting at the Campbell Center (155 High St.) from 6 to 8pm.

GTFF Bargaining Summary and Look Ahead

Written by the GTFF Bargaining Committee 

It seems that during bargaining both sides are finally getting around to understanding what each other wants, but it is still difficult for the sides to find any common grounds on issues important to GTFs. Pieces of the collective bargaining agreement do continue to get finalized, but they are largely issues brought to the table by the administration and not issues the GTFF wanted to deal with. This is disappointing, but not overall uncommon to union bargaining cycles. Let us take a walk through the bargaining session on March 21st chronologically.

ACT I – Agreement

The session opens with our lead negotiator, Amber, making movement and agreements on some administration proposals. An extension of university monitoring of GTF course loads is happily accepted. An administration offer to include GTFs as a stake holder in improved wireless access is welcomed, but possibly needs a little work. A small change in the language of article 25 that removes reference to state laws that will be superseded by the coming change in University governance is a necessary and simple change that the GTFF was happy to accept.

ACT II – Administration Proposals

The Administration’s lead negotiator, Jeff, began to present their proposal language for this session. Jeff makes no attempt to hide the administration’s belief that GTFs have no right to any sort of paid leave. A main argument by the administration was that GTFs’ leave requirements are uncertain and unpredictable so this places an insurmountable financial burden on the university. The GTFF did not agree with this assessment. While the administration language to setup a procedure for GTFs to find substitutes to cover their responsibilities for short term absences (via suggested trading work loads) was welcome, there are cases where GTFs need extended time off and sometimes the varied academic and job-related requirements on a GTF make it impossible for GTFs to make up all of the time they missed. We must deal with this reality in a systematic and fair way. The GTFF will continue to push for paid medical and parental leave for our members, a position the administration stated they understood, respected but still flatly refused.

Next, the session turned to the question of who the GTFF is bargaining with. The administration continued to list “the appropriate University authority” as our university counterpart and to claim that this not a negotiable topic. The GTFF disagrees, believes all parts of the collective bargaining agreement are open for negotiating and hopes we’ll see some clarity on this topic after the incoming Board of Trustees meets on March 27th and 28th. Again, Jeff stated explicitly that he understood our position, but disagreed with it.

The next topic of interest was how the university handles late payments to GTFs. During previous sessions, the GTFF was victorious in getting the administration to agree to extend late pay coverage to all academic quarters, not just the fall quarter. The last topic of concern was the naming of the program. After looking into it, the administration decide that because the source of funding is an endowment, the administration cannot change its title unilaterally to remove the word “loan”. The GTFF understood and some debate lead to an agreement to update the loan’s application website to de- emphasize that it is a loan and make its purpose more explicit.

The final administration proposal for the day was their request to do drug and alcohol testing of GTFs. Under current University policy as well as state law, the University can already do drug and alcohol testing of GTFs, so previously the GTFF had signed off on large portions of this proposal. The GTFF had a few objections previously, both of which the administration addressed. First, the administration agreed that some clarity was needed in who can initiate drug testing and included language that lists explicit who can initiate drug and alcohol testing (your immediate supervisor,

department heads, deans of colleges, some administrators). Second, the administration informed the GTFF that the Employee Assistance Program (EAP) that appears in the United Academics CBA to provide counseling to members who fail drug tests is a part of the UA health insurance program, so GTFs would not be eligible to use it. The administration, however, was open to finding another method for GTFs to receive counseling instead of going through the health center as original proposed. The GTFF was happy to see the administration take both of these concerns seriously and work with us in finding solutions for them.

Before the GTF took a turn to do some presentations, the administration’s bargaining team stated that over the past few years the administration has looked for ways to stop the clock on a GTF’s time to degree, allowing GTFs to take some extended time off from their education. The administration has not finalized a plan, but they making progress towards that end. The GTFF was thrilled to hear this, but was concerned about how taking time off might affect the “years of funding” offered to GTFs when being accepted to the University. If the GTFs need to take a extended period of time off, we do not want them to lose the opportunity to have their educations funded. Hopefully we can work together to help GTFs deal with both the financial side and the educational side of this issue.

Act III – Frac Sheets

In the opening bargaining sessions, the GTFF presented a updated Article 9 that proposed fraction calculations sheets that clearly layout the time usage for that supervisors expect for each GTF position. They are to be discussed, drawn up, and agreed upon by GTFs and their supervisors at the beginning of GTF appointments. The GTFF decided to use a large segment of this session to make its case for fraction calculation sheets.

How these sheets could be used for teaching duties, we hoped, was clear to the administration, so the GTFF opened its presentation with a statement by David Grych, sharing how the sheets could be used in research positions. Because of uncertain timeframes that come experimentation, how a GTF uses his/her time in a lab setting needs to be structured, but flexible. Laying out serious expectations of how much time a GTF is expected to invest in the wide variety of research duties a GTF might have makes their jobs clear to both GTF and their advisor.

Amber built on Dave’s assessment from a more teaching viewpoint and answered numerous questions from the administration. Both the Music department and Political Science department already successfully use frac sheets currently to clarify work duties. These sheets are not written in stone and are meant to be reviewed during a term if time commitment issues arise and at the end of terms to adjust future duties. In the rare event a supervisor makes unreasonable and unexpected requests of their GTF, the frac sheet gives the GTF a starting point to discuss their concerns with their supervisors. The GTFF’s proposal included a provision to keep frac sheets on record for 6 years. This gives future GTFs filling the same work duties a clear idea of how their positions are meant to operate. According to GTFF bargaining team member, Shawna Meechan, the political science department already keeps a long record of frac sheets, all of which are electronic, making storage and management of them very simple. Hopefully the administration understands our desire for these sheets more clearly and will re- evaluate their opposition to them.

Intermission

The bargaining teams took a 15 minute caucus to discuss some of the previous issues, both amongst the bargaining teams themselves and with the GTFF membership at large. During the caucus, roughly 60 people were in attendance. This is a fantastic number of GTFs in attendance on the Friday before Spring Break. The GTFF bargaining team wants to thank all of you who came – GTFs, faculty, staff, undergrads and community members. Your support of us means the world to us. So many of you turning out for this session in particular should give the administration pause if they think they can just bowl over the 6 GTFF members sitting at the table.

Act IV – Financial Pictures

During the last portion of session, the GTFF presented a (nearly complete) view of how it sees the whole financial picture of bargaining. The GTFF bargaining team was joined by your humble narrator, Richard Wagner, who helped them put together some financial data. The financial package breaks into 5 segments: wages, fees, health care, summer tuition, and leave, the last two of which were not discussed in this session.

The GTFF proposed a raise of 6.1% for the minimum wage of GTFs over the next two academic years in order to help close the gap between what GTFs earn and what the University estimates it costs to live in Eugene. Based on our calculations, this would result in raises for around half of our members and cost the University just over 1 million dollars over the 2 years of the agreement. The administration’s counter offer was 1.5% in year one and 2% in year two. This would affect just one third of GTFs and cost the University around $215,000 over the two years, a smaller figure than some administrators make in one year alone. Their proposal does nothing to close the gap between wages and expenses for GTFs.

As for student fees, the GTFF proposed eliminating student fees completely for GTFs, resulting in around $280,000 of lost revenue during the academic year for the University from GTFs each year. The administration proposed switching to a percentage-based fee model for GTFs – asking GTFs to pay 12% of the total graduate student fee each quarter of the academic year. Switching to this model, and assuming that fees would grow at 8% (as they have averaged annually since 2008), would result in the University increasing the fee revenue from GTFs by a little more than $54,000 over those 2 years. This already makes up for 1⁄4 of the raise that GTFs would receive. Does the administration really expect the GTFs to pay for at least 1⁄4 of their own raise?

The GTFF is very reluctant to accept a change to a percentage model for GTF contribution to fees. We are concerned with the administration subsequently greatly increasing fees on graduate students, placing a new financial burden on GTFs. This is the case for graduate students at some other universities, sometimes putting fees at values comparable to tuition. We do not want to see that happen here. Going to a percentage model with not save graduate students money. Shifting away from a flat dollar value will increase the amount of money you have to pay to the University.

The final piece of the financial puzzle is healthcare. Our calculations estimate that giving GTFs major dental coverage and doubling the vision coverage for GTFs would cost the University 1.348 million dollars over the two years of our collective bargaining agreement. The administration, of course, does not believe we should get this coverage. The administration was concerned that none of the GTFF calculations included premium increases for our health insurance, as this will be a major increase in cost to the university The GTFF calculations were not meant to take these into account, as our calculations were just meant to look at the expenses for things both sides bargained for. No one, other than Pacific Source, has a say in how much premiums will increase yearly, so these figures were not included by the GTFF. However, we do recognize that this is an important expense to look at, so we will try to include this in a 2nd draft of expenses, hopefully after the health and welfare trust completes a report on our health insurance.

Based just on the items outlined above, the GTFF estimates the cost to the University of a little over 3 million dollars over the two years of the agreement. This represents less than 1% of the 442 million dollars in E&G fund revenue the University pulled in just this past academic year and less than 10% of the 31 million dollar profit the E&G fund turned. (The E&G funds is the pool of money that the administration claims is the only one to consider when looking at how to pay for GTFs – a claim the GTFF thinks is lame, but even if we limit ourselves to that fund, what we proposed is still reasonable). The administration’s proposals would increase the cost to the University by around $158,000 over the 2 years, an average of 0.018% of their E&G budget for one year. Is that really all we are worth to them? Can the University really only afford an extra $4.39/month per graduate student?

 

This was the last bargaining session before the GTFF collective bargaining agreement ends on March 31st. The labor protections in the CBA will continue to be in affect until a new one is ratified, but, without a new CBA, conditions for GTFs cannot improve. There will be no future pay raises. There can be no medical leave. You don’t have a right to access to kitchen facilities or clean offices. We must continue to work together and fight for the benefit of all GTFs. On Friday April 11th, there will be a very important general membership meeting where we will discuss our priorities in bargaining. Think about what things you personally thing are important enough for us to keep fighting for, what concessions you feel we could make to the administration and to what extremes you believe the GTF should go to in order to get those things we believe we deserve. It is important for as many members as possible to come to the GMM so that we can hear voices from across campus and have a good idea of what our membership wants collectively. Decisions made at the bargaining table affect all of us, so all of us should share our input. Please consider coming the GMM, we want to see you and hear what you have to say. Also, there will be food.