Due to a unilateral decision by the University of Oregon Administration, bargaining between the GTFF and the Administration has ceased. Nearly 1500 University of Oregon GTFs are about to enter the 8th week of working without a contract and, as summer rapidly approaches, are facing the very real danger of returning in the Fall without a valid contract. The GTFF executive council has called for an Emergency General Membership Meeting to discuss the state of bargaining, how its members feel about the Administration’s proposals, and how they might want to proceed, including by possibly calling for a Strike Authorization Vote. Following is an overview of what exactly happened at that last session.
GTFF Bargaining Summary and Look Ahead – May 16, 2014
Written by Richard Wagner (Physics) of the GTFF Bargaining Committee
The GTFF and University of Oregon Administration had 2 bargaining sessions scheduled for the week of May 12th, Wednesday and Thursday. On Wednesday, the GTFF was explicitly told by the Administration’s bargaining team that they are done bargaining for the time being. They have no interest in continuing these negotiations until the GTFF Health and Welfare Trust has made some decisions about GTF health insurance for the next academic year. So, for now, we are done. The bargaining session scheduled for Thursday was called off, and we all wait. Well, the Administration waits. The GTFF has work to do! But, first let’s review quickly what got us to this point on Wednesday.
Administration Counter on Workload
The Administration offered their same language on workload as before – departments will be given copies of workload allocation forms (previously, Fraction Calculation Sheets) and that’s all. GTFs can request to use them, but departments and supervisors can say “no” and that’s the end of that. The Administration offered some concerns about the administrative overhead required to use these forms – stating 1. it would too hard to keep a list of who used the forms, 2. it would be hard to locate forms in the future, and 3. it’s complicated to deal with placing the forms in personnel files. The GTFF bargaining team was unhappy with these explanations and offered a variety of different options or way to deal with these problems (including such extremely difficult tasks as keeping a list of who used forms, not keeping the forms in personnel files, or labeling a folder “Basic Paperwork Filing 101” and placing any forms for that course inside of that folder). But, the Administration still was concerned about the difficulties associated with paying someone to manage one extra sheet of paper per GTF. The GTF continued to stress the importance of the changes they proposed last week, guaranteeing these forms are stored for future use, can be reviewed at the conclusion of a course, and requiring departments or supervisors who deny the use of these forms to provide a written explanation of why the request by GTFs was rejected.
GTFF Financial Proposal
The GTFF offered a new financial package:
- Wages – The GTFF membership has not voted to permit the bargaining team to move down from 5.5% raises for both years. Raising wages enough to make a serious effort in closing the gap between income and cost of a living is an issue of critical importance to GTFs, and as such the GTFF remained at 5.5%.
- Student Fees – The GTFF membership is concerned about student fees, but viewed closing the cost of living gap as much more important, so the GTFF offered to take any change in fees off the table and remain at a flat $61 fee per academic quarter as is currently the case, rather than changing to $31 as per their last proposal. Changing to a percentage basis for fees, even a small percentage, opens GTFs to the risk of skyrocketing fees, which will financially burden them and increase the cost of living gap. The GTFF updated proposal would save the University around $270,000 over the life of the contract as compared to the prior GTFF proposal.
- Major Dental Coverage and Expanded Vision Coverage – The GTFF membership has consistently listed major dental and vision as issues of great importance to them, but have placed more importance to major dental coverage. Thus, the GTFF bargaining team was willing to cut their proposed vision benefit increase in half to just an extra $100 per GTF per year. Because of the importance of major dental coverage to the its membership, the GTFF bargaining team did not move from their major dental coverage proposal. The changes to the vision benefit would save the University around $250,00 over the course of the contract.
- Healthcare Premium Cap – The GTFF membership has previously voted against the idea of a healthcare premium cap, and as such the GTFF bargaining team is unwilling to accept the Administration’s language. The premium cap put forth by the Administration is entirely unreasonable as it sets the two year cap at a figure lower than the past decade’s average one year premium increase rate – a rate the GTFF, the Administration, nor the Health and Welfare trust has any control over. The low cap would greatly increase insurance rates paid by GTFs as the average increase would consistently put the premium growth above the cap limit. To potentially keep premium under the cap, the trust could seriously restructure GTF health insurance, which would greatly increase the out of pocket medical expenses for GTFs and eliminate needed medical coverage for GTFs. Both of these options financially burden GTFs and make closing the cost of living gap much more difficult, not to mention the physical burden placed on GTFs who now must decide to avoid necessary medical procedures or go into debt to afford getting them.
- Paid Leave – Paid leave for sick and injured GTFs, for GTFs who are dealing with the loss of a loved one, and for GTFs who have just welcomed a new child into their lives is another issue of serious importance as voted upon by GTFF membership. To work with the Administration, the GTFF offered to adjust their paid leave proposal so that only documented medical issues requiring more than a week absence from work (such as recovering from surgery, pneumonia or being hit by a car) would be covered. These GTFs need time to heal and do not have time in their schedules to make up more than a week’s worth of work. The GTFF did accept the Administration’s unpaid leave proposal for immigration hearings, jury duty and voting, and a new Article related to these topics was TA’d by both teams. The GTFF’s new proposals would save the University an estimated $90,000.
Overall, the GTF reduce the cost of their financial proposals by more than $662,000. Careful analysis and explanation for why or why not movement was made in each area was presented to the Administration by the GTFF bargaining team, with the hopes that the Administration would return on Thursday with similar analysis and discussion of their financial proposals.
They aren’t going to do that
After caucusing, the Administration returned to the bargaining room and was ready to TA unpaid leave for jury duty, immigration hearings and election days, which was nice. The GTFF presented their counter on workload allocation forms, which (if you recall) the Administration rejected – so those good feelings ended quickly. And to further bring down the mood of the room, the Administration launched into a prepared statement on why they wish to suspend bargaining.
Administration lead negotiator and $290/hour hired lawyer, Jeff, pointed out that in the previous 2 bargaining cycles, mediation stretched well into the summer and notes from those sessions pointed to cost of health insurance as being the main sticking pointing delaying finalization of an agreement. As this is the historical precedent and is clearly what is happening now, the Administration is unwilling to make any further changes to their financial package until after the Health and Welfare trust makes a decision on what the health insurance plan for the following academic year will look like. Without a set plan from the Trust, the Administration is uninterested in meeting again, and that includes the scheduled session for Thursday (unless, of course, the GTFF decides they want to cave to all their demands).
Logically, the GTFF bargaining team was none too pleased about this decision. The Administration was asked if the University was financial burdened by the unexpected and very uncommon growth in insurance premiums for the previous year, and the Administration response was that spending money in one place, prevents it from being spent in another. When asked if the University had to dig into its surplus to pay for the increase in premium, the Administration said it was silly to suggest they go bankrupt before trying to find a way to save money. None of the Administration’s responses answered the heart of these questions, because the actual answer to that question is, “No. It was not a serious financial burden on the University.” According to the Oregon University System quarterly report on University finances discussed at the May 16, 2014 OUS Board Meeting1, for the 2013-2014 Fiscal Year, the University is expecting to increase its E&G fund balance by around ten million dollars, an increase of 16% from the previous year. That’s WITH the major burden faced by the University due to GTF health insurance. The University didn’t lose money. They didn’t have to dig into the surplus. They grew it! By 16%! I’m pretty sure no GTFs would be complaining if they saw their finances grow by 16%.
Since the Administration is concerned about timelines (they have frozen theirs until they see a Trust decision), the GTFF laid out the timeline as it sees it. Its members having been working under an expired contract since March 31st – nearly a full quarter now. The GTFF has scheduled an emergency membership meeting for this Friday, where they plan to discuss the University’s last best offer (we’ll review that shortly), and how the GTFF might respond to this offer. Once of these responses very well might be calling for a strike authorization vote. There are just 4 weeks until the quarter is over and summer begins. During the summer, the GTFF bylaws prevent the GTFF from holding a ratification vote on the contract. The passing of a strike authorization vote, not reaching an agreement before the term ends, and a summer of mediation means that when GTFs return to campus (being run by a new Board of Trustees), they could do so under the threat of a strike. Is that a position the Administration is willing to gamble on? How happy are their new bosses (who currently know nothing about GTFF bargaining) going to be to have to possibly manage a strike by 1500 GTFs who teach 1/3 of the courses at UO as soon as they officially take over?
The ground rules, agreed upon by the Administration and GTFF, stipulate that both sides must endeavor to finish bargaining before the conclusion of the prior contract. The Administration has already hinted that they did not have the intent to do this at previous bargaining sessions, and have made that very clear by refusing to continue to bargaining now – even after the contract has ended. That is irresponsible and makes this GTF personally unsure if the Administration is bargaining in good faith.
The exact reason the Administration says they wish to pause bargaining is that they are unwilling to make any more movement on their financial package. This is not surprising, as they’ve nearly always been unwilling to make any movement on their financial package. In what, upon reflection, probably wasn’t really necessary at this point, the GTFF bargaining team called Richard Wagner to speak about exactly this. Richard put together some details about the GTFF’s and the Administration’s movement on their respective bargaining packages. He presented the attached graphs3 (it’s below, click to enlarge), which shows the GTFF proposals on the left and Administration proposals on the right. Earlier proposals are on the outsides of the plots, with newer ones on the inside, hoping to show movement together. Above each bar (color coded to represent the cost of each component of the financial package) is the change in cost to the University for each package from the previous package. Clearly, the GTFF has been continually making movement towards the Administration, while the Administration has done very little to meet them somewhere in the middle, even reducing their proposal as a first step. The Administration’s response was that there is nothing that says two opposing bargaining sides must meet in the middle, so stop whining. While maybe that’s technically true, saying nothing but “No. No. No.” without any justification and refusing to try to find ways to make GTF requests financially possible is not an endeavor that leads to completing bargaining.
The Administration has said repeatedly that the GTFF proposal is way too expensive and the Administration’s proposal is as large as they can afford. But is it? What does that $3.79 million dollars that the GTF has proposed (over two years) look like compared to the aforementioned E&G fund balance? Take a look at the below chart (click to enlarge). What do you think? I think if the Administration really valued its graduate students, wanted to support them, and wanted to improve its graduate programs as President Gottfredson claimed in front of a crowd of University Department Heads, they could definitely find the means to move their financial proposal closer to the GTFFs financial proposal.
So, that leaves the question of what the Administration’s final financial package looks like. Here it is:
- Wages – Raises of 3% per year. For a 0.5 FTE, level 1 GTF at the minimum, pay increases by $42/month and $43/month each year. With 1.5% inflation, cost of living would grow by about $24/month each year, so the cost of living gap for GTFs would only close by $18 and $19 each year. At this speed, the current $207 cost of living gap would finally close by 2023 – just in time for those who were not born in time to actually party in 1999 to begin graduate school. Note that for the next academic year, University Graduate Student Housing rent is set to increase by $25/month – already more than the estimated the inflation amount for the entire cost of living. This is also more than half of the raise for 0.5 FTE GTF, a workload that nearly 60% of GTFs are below.
- Student Fees – Change to 10% GTF payment of fees in academic year and 90% in summer. For the academic year, the Administration stated next year expects $585/quarter in fees, for a reduction of GTF fee payments by about $1/month. Fees after that are unknown. There would be no GTF protections “if” fees suddenly increased greatly for any reason. The Administration has stated that fees have grown at an average rate of 3.5% – “if” this were the case in year 2, fee payments would increase by $1/month.
- Major Dental Coverage and Expanded Vision Coverage – No, we will not agree to pay for major dental nor expanded vision coverage. The Trust has the power to add benefits anytime it wants, so it can just do that. But be wary of the cap!
- Healthcare Premium Cap – Institute 7% cap on University contribution to healthcare premiums. All other premium rate increases must be covered by GTFs. The 10-year average for premium rate increases is already 10%. If we sat at the average every year, the cap would always be reached in the first year of a contract (and then exceeded) and GTFs would have to foot the bill for the rest of the cost-an extra 3% in year one and the entire 10% in year 2. However, the Trust doesn’t anticipate hitting this cap in the premium next year. Next year, monthly insurance premiums are believed to only increase by about $1 for a GTF. In the following year, however, if there is just an average increase in premiums, a GTF would expect their premium payments to increase by $31/month – more than twice the $26 paid by members now. This nearly erases the entire growth of the wages. All of this still assumes average years. If a “bad” year happens, where premium increases are abnormally high, there would be a much, much tougher impact on GTFs. For example, another really bad year of a 20% increase in year 2 would see GTF insurance premiums nearly quadruple that year, increasing to $112 per month.
- Paid Leave – No. No other salaried employees working under 0.5FTE get it, why should GTFs? This ignores the fact that are no other entire group of employees, other than maybe work-study undergraduates, who work at under 0.5FTE. The Administration was unable to name any other groups that fall into this category. So, the Administration is basically stating we shouldn’t get paid leave because we’ve never gotten paid leave.
All of these planks rest on the foundation of limiting the exposure of the University to risk – especially risk associated with healthcare. There is no concern for placing GTFs at risk. just as long as the University doesn’t have to put out any more money. To limit that exposure the best it can, the University has decided to stop working with the GTFF and just wait until after the Trust makes some decisions about GTF health insurance for the next year. And that’s basically everything. The two sides know where each other stands. So what’s a GTF to do now?
If the GTFF can’t do it at the table, we must other outlets. We can defeat the Administration in the court of public opinion – the Administration’s #2 priority after its own finances. Get yourself onto twitter! Shout at the University, the media and anyone who will listen. Tell them how upset you are. Talk to your non-University friends, neighbors and family about what is going on at the University of Oregon. Reach out to the Administration’s bosses. Let the incoming Board of Trustees know what you think of how GTFs are being treated by the Administration and why you think the union’s proposals constitute a fair contract for all GTFs. (Friends and allies, you too can do all of the above to support GTFs!) Pull together your colleagues and tell them about bargaining if they aren’t already in the loop. Invite them to go with you to the GTFF office to vote in the event of a Strike Authorization Vote (we need 30% membership turnout for the vote to be valid) But, most importantly…
Attend the Emergency General Membership Meeting on Friday! It is at the Northwest Youth Corps (2621 Augusta St). There’ll be food and entry at 5pm, then the business will start at 5:30. We’ll discuss all the recent bargaining going-ons (about which you now are an expert after having read all of this), how we feel about the Administration’s final proposals and then discuss what we as a Union want do about it if we aren’t happy with it. I listed some ideas above that GTFs could do individually, but we are much stronger together than alone. What other actions could GTFs as a group take? More rallying? Another work-in? Massive, organized media and community outreach? What do you think would be useful to do?
We will definitely have a conversation about a strike authorization vote at the general Membership meeting. We cannot vote to go on strike at this meeting. The Strike Authorization Vote, a vote giving the authority to the bargaining team to call for a union strike, must happen by ballot box. The decision to call for a strike will be based on a bottom line decided upon at this GMM. What we can decide on Friday is if the membership feels we should hold this vote at all. If you support a strike, if you don’t support a strike, if you are unsure about a strike, if you have never heard of bargaining before, come to the Emergency GMM. We need to hear the voices of all GTFs. All of you have different situations, needs and concerns. Sharing these with your fellow GTFs will help everyone make solid, well informed decisions. Because, ultimately, the entire membership is the final authority. The bargaining team doesn’t make decisions about what it can do. You have to make those decisions. And, after you make some decisions on Friday, stick around for a social hour – complete with free booze (and maybe some shameless flirting).
1. See pdf page 167 of the publicly available appendices for the meeting available here: http://www.ous.edu/state-board/board-meetings/meeting-materials. This information is for the OSU board meeting for this coming Friday – these figures are very, very up to date.
2 There is no footnote #2.