The GTFF had another packed house for its General Membership Meeting (GMM) held on Friday, October 3rd. The Bargaining Team presented new and returning GTFs with a detailed account of bargaining and mediation through September. No major bargaining decisions were made at Friday’s GMM. Stewards requested that their members have more time in their departments to discuss the current proposals, as it is all new information for most GTFs. So, the GTFF is encouraging GTFs of each department to get together to discuss the state of bargaining and the current proposals on the table. These proposals, as well as a plethora of information about bargaining, can be found here. In two weeks, the GTFF will hold another GMM where GTFs can discuss their views on the proposals and ultimately decide the next steps we will take as a union.
With GTFs returning to campus last week, many GTFF members have reported hearing misinformation about bargaining, in particular from pieces published in “Around the O”. We would like to address some of these issues, in order to clear up misunderstandings about the ongoing negotiations between the GTFF and the Administration.
Myth: The University pays graduate students 30-50 thousand dollars a year.
Fact: This figure includes tuition and student fees, which the Administration decides and increases the costs of every year, the University pays to itself, and GTFs cannot use to pay for rent or to buy groceries. In terms of actual GTF income, most earn a gross income between $12,000 and $19,000 per year. For GTFs working the minimum rate and the maximum of 20 hours/week at a .49FTE, there is a monthly gap of more than $200 between their wages and what the University’s Financial Aid Website states is the cost of living to attend UO. Many of these GTFs make up this gap by taking out student loans or borrowing money from family members just to cover rent and food. In contrast, grad employees at Oregon State are paid $51 above the monthly cost of living in Corvallis and also receive tuition waivers, as do grad employees at nearly all major universities
Myth: 68% of GTFs are paid above the minimum rate.
Fact: Use of a “rate” to quantify GTF pay allows for misunderstanding of how much money GTFs actually get paid each month. Minimum GTF pay is defined by a set quarterly amount for GTFs who are hired for .5 FTE, although, in reality, GTFs are limited to being hired at .49 FTE by Grad School rules. While 68% of GTFs are paid at a higher rate than this, 59% of GTFs are hired for less than the full .49FTE. GTFs who are hired for under 0.49FTE and at the absolute minimum rate, around 250 GTFs, earn an average gross income of $920/month. Overall, nearly 2 out of 3 GTFs, 62% grad employees at UO, to earn gross incomes below the defined minimum quarterly amounts and 56% of GTFs do not make a gross income that meets the University’s cost of living estimates.
Myth: The University remains committed to paying for 95% of GTF health insurance.
Fact: Through the first 9 months of bargaining, the Administration pushed for language that would transfer health insurance costs onto graduate students, risking doubling or tripling costs for GTFs or a potential cut in benefits to keep costs down. The GTFF membership continually resisted this language, voting 98% in favor of striking if this language was included in a final contract. Only after this vote, and meeting with a state appointed mediator, did the University agree to guarantee to keep paying this rate.
Myth: The University will pay for all insurance premium increases in the next year.
Fact: The University will pay for 95% of premium increases, preserving the 95% – 5% split between the University and GTFs for insurance costs.
Myth: The University is responsible for the quality of GTFF health insurance.
Fact: Health insurance for GTFs is managed by the GTFF Health and Welfare Trust, an independent body of 5 GTFs and one University administrator that is chaired by the GTFF President. All decisions about GTF health insurance are made democratically by the Trust. The Trust has existed since the early 1990s, and is a very important piece of their contract to GTFs.
Myth: The University gave GTFs major dental insurance coverage and improved vision coverage.
Fact: Throughout bargaining, the Administration refused to pay for these benefits. These new benefits were negotiated by the Trust and their insurance company. Additionally, the new plan decreased insurance premiums by 3% for this year, saving the University $250,000 compared to last year.
Myth: The GTFF wants leave that would allow GTFs to cancel classes due to having a cold.
Fact: The GTFF medical leave proposal is for medical hardships – instances where a GTF’s doctor recommends rest from work for more than 1 week to heal from illness or injury. This leave would only apply in cases where GTFs miss more than 1 week of work. GTFs would be responsible for making up the first missed week and, regardless of the leave length, only receive pay for up to 2 weeks in a calendar year. The proposal also provides provisions for compensating GTFs who cover the work of other GTFs on leave.
Myth: The University values flexibility for balancing school, work, and life.
Fact: The Administration has flatly refused any paid leave for GTFs, stating during negotiations that their opposition is not a matter of cost, but rather a matter of principle. The GTFF estimates a cost of $35,000 a year to offer 2 weeks of paid medical and 2 weeks of paid parental leave for all GTFs – an estimate not challenged by the Administration. GTFs across campus have spoken openly about the lack of balance in school, work, and life when serious hospitalizations occur or a new baby is added to their household.
Myth: Like all employees working under 0.5FTE, GTFs should not have any paid leave.
Fact: All classified staff accrue paid sick leave, prorated to their employment. While it is true that academic staff under 0.5FTE do not have paid leave, GTFs, by a rule of the Graduate School, are prevented from being able to work over 0.49FTE. As a result they are unable to accrue leave hours, a position that is not equitable with other academic employees on campus.
Myth: GTFs are going on strike in the Fall.