Strike FAQ

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This is a working document that will be expanded and updated as necessary. It is intended as a guide/reference for GEs as we continue with contract negotiations and as we prepare for the possibility of strike.

What is a strike?

A strike is a concerted effort by workers (ie GEs) at a workplace (ie UO) to stop, slowdown or otherwise interrupt their normal duties in order to pressure their employer to agree to a fair contract or achieve some other goal. A strike therefore calls upon employees to withhold their labor from their employer to disrupt business as usual. The strike is workers’ most powerful tool, but it comes with significant risks and is always the action of last resort.

Is a GTFF strike inevitable?

No! The Bargaining Committee is determined to do everything in its power to reach a fair deal with the University voluntarily and without a strike. Nevertheless, given the University’s positions in bargaining so far, it is essential that we take steps to prepare to strike if the UO refuses to agree to a fair contract for GEs. Asking all GEs to sign a strike commitment pledge – saying that will participate in a strike if the membership votes to strike – is part of that process. We want to avoid a strike, but we need a credible strike threat to pressure UO to offer a fair deal and need to be prepared to strike, if necessary.

What would happen if GTFF declares a strike?

If GTFF members vote to authorize a strike and a strike is subsequently declared, all GEs will be asked to immediately stop doing the work of their GE positions. That means not teaching classes, not grading papers, not entering grades, not answering student emails, not doing office work, and not working the number of hours in your research lab for which you are paid for as a GE (i.e., 4 hours per day for .49 FTE). If you choose to participate in a strike, you are striking over all of your work. You cannot selectively choose portions of your work duties to not perform.

Who decides if GEs will go on strike?

Only the GTFF membership can decide whether or not GEs will go on strike. A decision to strike will be made via a democratic vote open to all GTFF members. Sixty-percent of voting members must vote in favor of a strike. Typically unions hold a strike authorization vote in advance of a potential strike that authorizes the union’s Bargaining Committee to declare a strike if and when the Committee determines that such an action is necessary. Note: Only Full Members of GTFF are eligible to cast a ballot in a strike vote. Associate Members and non-members are not eligible to vote on whether or not to strike.

When would a strike happen?

Legal guidelines, as well as strategic and practical considerations, determine when a strike would happen. Since our contract has expired (3/31/19) and we have completed fifteen days of legally-required mediated bargaining, a GTFF strike could – in principle – occur as early as this Summer. However, for many reasons, a Summer strike is highly unlikely. The most likely scenario for a strike is in Fall Term – but only after all other means of achieving a fair contract have been exhausted.

What are our legal rights regarding a strike?

A strike is a lawful concerted activity under Oregon law (ORS 243.726). “Concerted activities,” such as joining a union, picketing, passing out leaflets, attending union meetings, rallies and demonstrations, and participating in strikes, are all legally-protected activities for both US nationals and foreign employees (ORS 243.650-782; NLRA). Employees cannot be persecuted for being union members, nor can they be persecuted for the concerted actions of unions or other groups (ORS 243.670-675).

How long would a strike last?

No one can say for sure. The first goal is to avoid a strike altogether by reaching a voluntary agreement with UO before it comes to that. Strikes are extremely disruptive (to employers, workers, and students) and are designed to force an employer to concede as quickly as possible. Strikes, especially academic strikes, do not tend to last longer than a few days. That said, there is no way to guarantee a short strike. The 2014 GTFF strike lasted for eight days – considerably longer than most expected and hoped. Some graduate employees have struck for even longer. If a strike becomes necessary, GEs must be prepared to stay off the job for as long as it takes to reach an agreement.

Which GEs can/should participate in a strike?

Every GE, whether a teaching assistant (instructor of record, discussion leader, or grader), research assistant, or administrative assistant can and should honor a strike vote and participate to the fullest extent possible.

How do I participate in a strike as an RA?

Some GEs, such as research assistants with sensitive experiments or whose GE work cannot be clearly separated from their academic research, may not be in a position to stop working all together. In such situations, GEs should plan to minimize the amount of labor they provide to UO – but reducing their lab/research hours by the amount of hours for which they are being paid as a GE (i.e., 4 hours per day for .49 FTE) and support the strike in other ways, such as participating in picket lines and demonstrations. No one will be expected to damage their own academic progress during a strike, but RA positions are work and should be treated as such in the context of a work stoppage.

Can I be compelled to participate in a strike?

No. All GEs must decide on their own if they are going to strike, but refusing to join an authorized strike weakens the power of the disruption and reduces our ability to win a fair contract. The membership collectively and democratically decides whether or not to strike and if we are going to succeed, we need all members to honor that decision.

Low participation in a strike and low turnout on the picket lines make individual participants more vulnerable to non-renewal, retaliation, or discipline. All of these actions on the part of the Administration would violate labor law, but become a greater danger when our public action is not sufficiently strong in numbers. A strike means we are “all-in” – together.
Can I go on strike before the GTFF declares a strike?
No. If you refuse to work (go on strike) before a strike has been formally declared, or you refuse to return to work after the strike ends, you can be disciplined or terminated.

What rights to international GEs have to participate in a strike

International GEs have the same legal protections to participate in ANY union activities as domestic GEs. A grad student’s visa status is NOT at risk during a strike; a grad student’s status as a student is NOT tied to their status as an employee. (See more information for international GEs at bottom of page).

Can I lose my job for striking?

Not legally. We have the legal right to strike and it is illegal to discipline or retaliate against a striking employee. If an employee who is a member of the union’s bargaining unit takes part in a strike, they are guaranteed to have their jobs back at the end of a strike. It is highly unlikely that the University would risk the legal consequences of firing striking GEs and GTFF will vigorously defend any member who experiences any form of relation for participating in a strike.

Will I get paid during a strike?

Maybe so, maybe not. Because you are not working during a strike, the employer has the legal right not to pay your wages for any day you withhold labor. This is tricky given the flexible nature of much GE work. In a strike situation, many departments are unlikely to keep track of who goes on strike or report striking members to the Administration, though we can’t guarantee that all departments will do so. In the case of a strike, the GTFF will fight for a settlement to the strike that provides back-pay for any days for which GEs were not paid while on strike, but there are no guarantees so GEs should be prepared to not get paid during a strike. GTFF and AFT-OR will do what we can to minimize the impacts of such a scenario.

Can I lose my health insurance or tuition waiver by going on strike?

Once a GE completes 88 hours of labor for the University during any term, their benefits, including contributions to our health insurance and tuition waivers are secured. Plus, since our insurance plan is owned and managed by the GTFF Health & Welfare Trust – not the UO – the University cannot unilaterally cancel our coverage. The Administration could, however, threaten to stop making their (95%) contribution to the Trust. This is unlikely that UO would try to cut GE insurance access or tuition waivers, but such a move would trigger additional collective action and, very likely, legal action by GTFF and/or our parent union, the American Federation of Teachers.

Is my ability to be hired in future terms at risk?

Not legally. Refusal to rehire GEs in future terms based on past participation in a strike (or any other union activity) is a violation of labor law and our collective bargaining agreement. Although such retaliation is illegal, there is no guarantee that it cannot happen. GTFF will vigorously defend any GEs against retaliation, but proving a GE was not hired explicitly because they participated in a strike could be very difficult.

Would the faculty and the faculty union (United Academics) support GEs if they go on strike?

Most faculty members are likely to support GEs in the case of a strike, but some may not. United Academics of the University of Oregon (UAUO), the faculty union, will act in solidarity and do what it can legally to support our strike, including providing information and best practices to its members for how to handle a strike. UO faculty may be asked by the Administration to perform GE work during a strike, but faculty have a right under their collective bargaining agreement to refuse “unreasonable” requests to perform additional duties. UAUO is likely to defend its members who refuse to do the work of striking GEs under such circumstances.

That said, a strike by GEs will have significant impacts on faculty (and classified staff) so it is crucial that they fully understand why a strike happens and that it was called only as a last resort and as the result of the University’s unwillingness to reach a fair contract with GTFF. GTFF works closely with UAUO and other campus unions and will do whatever we can make it easier for other unionized workers on campus to support a GTFF strike.

In April, 2019, the UO Senate has passed an “Academic Continuity Plan” that will (partly) govern how a strike is handled by UO. The plan gives the Senate’s Academic Council the right to determine whether or not to allow the use of temporary grades – designed to minimize the impact of a strike on vulnerable students – in the event that the President declares a “Campus State of Emergency” during a GTFF strike. The Senate believes control over grades is (or ought to be) under the purview of the faculty. However, President Schill has informed the Senate, however, that he believes he has the right under his mandate from the Board of Trustees to overrule the Senate in such a situation. Such a situation is yet to be tested.

Can I talk about the strike with my students? Can I use listservs or bulletin boards?

It depends. The safest bet is to talk with students outside of official class time. However, if other non-work related information, communications, or activities are allowed on work time, the administration cannot ban union-related information, communications or activities. So if you or others can talk about or post about campus or community events not related to your course, they have to let you talk about the GTFF.

Some GEs are allowed discretion in their course to make non-course related announcements at the beginning of class. If you are allowed those, then you cannot be stopped from making GTFF- or strike-related announcements. However, for some courses it might make sense to wait until the end of class for announcements so that you can stick around afterwards to answer questions without it cutting into your course time.
Also, if you are allowed to use listservs for non-work related things, then you can use them for union emails as well. But we’d advise to keep in mind that some things are better conveyed in person and other things better conveyed via email. The best suggestion we have right now is to wait until class ends, and then mention for undergrads to go to our website and read the info on there for undergrads.
Undergrads are likely to have a lot of questions about a GTFF strike and it is important that they understand why a strike is happening and how it might affect them. For this reason, waiting until the end of class or inviting students to talk with you outside of class might make the most sense. This would also allow those undergrads who do not wish to participate in such a conversation to leave.

My advisor/department head/supervisor/office administrative staff asked me if I was going on strike, can they do that

Directly asking a GE if they plan to strike can be considered a form of intimidation and may violate the state labor statute. You do not have to answer, and can warn them that they may be violating the law by asking you. Have them talk to Human Resources to get their own legal advice about what they are doing before they commit any further Unfair Labor Practices (ORS 243.672).

Things your supervisor (or the department or University Administration) cannot do:

  • ask individual GEs if they intend to strike or comment on the advisability of choosing to strike;
  • bargain individually with GEs to come or return to work during a strike;
  • make threats of reduced support or discharge or retaliate against GEs that choose to strike;
  • make promises of any type to induce GEs to come or return to work during a strike;
  • supervisors should not alter a GE’s work assignment in order to prepare for or provide coverage during the strike;
  • supervisors should not ask a GTFF who is not going on strike to cover work during a strike;

If your supervisor, department head or support staff does or says something you feel may violate your rights to go on strike, please contact grievances@gtff.net. Record keeping and verification is very important in making sure violations of your rights are dealt with appropriately. Please write down what occurred, what was said by whom, and who else may have been present. Save any emails your supervisor or department have sent that may violate these rights.

As always, please email the VP for Grievances with any questions at grievances@gtff.net.

Does GTFF have access to legal counsel?

Absolutely! GTFF has a lawyer on retainer and a legal budget. We also receive significant legal assistance from AFT-OR and AFT, when needed.

INFORMATION FOR INTERNATIONAL GEs:

What are my rights as an international GE to participate in union activities such as picketing, attending rallies, leafleting, or joining in a strike?

Short answer: International GEs have full legal rights as employees to participate in union activities.

Long answer: Under Oregon State Labor Law (ORS 243.650-782), labor activities such as joining a union, attending union meetings, picketing, passing out leaflets, attending rallies and demonstrations, and participating in strikes, are all legally protected activities for foreigners in the U.S. (including foreign students with visas) just as they are for U.S. nationals. It is against the law for your employer (the University) to retaliate against you for participating in these protected activities (ORS 243.672).

US labor law (29 USCS § 157) also gives employees, both domestic and foreign, the right to join labor unions, to bargain collectively, and to participate in “concerted activity” to better their working conditions, pay, benefits, etc. Employees cannot be persecuted for being union members, nor can they be persecuted for the concerted actions of unions or other groups (NLRB v. Phoenix Mut. Life Ins. Co., 167 F2d 983 (7th Cir., 1948)).

Legally-protected “concerted activities” include almost anything in which an employee (acting alone), or a group of employees could be found to have a legitimate interest (NLRB v. Kennametal, Inc., 182 F2d 817 (3rd Cir., 1950). And, nearly any legal activity done even by one employee on behalf of another employee is likely a concerted action, and therefore protected by the statute (Pacific Electricord Co. v. NLRB, 361 F2d 310 (9th Cir., 1966).

As an international GE, is my visa status at risk?

In nearly 40 years of graduate employee unionization in the United States, there is no reported instance of any international student having problems with the law or with their visa status as the result of their union activity. It is against the law for the university to retaliate against you for union activities. It is also highly unlikely that a university would charge you with violating university regulations as a result of your union activities. But if they did so, the University’s actions would probably be found illegal and the GTFF would do everything in its power to defend you. There is no known case of any international student being expelled from the university as a result of union activities, nor would such an expulsion be legal.

International GEs have the same legal protections to participate in ANY union activities as domestic GEs. A grad student’s visa status is NOT at risk during a strike; a grad student’s status as a student is NOT tied to their status as an employee.

Important note: During the 2014 GTFF strike, some University administrators disseminated confusing and misleading information to international GEs suggesting that the visa status of international GEs could be threatened if they participated in the strike. This information was untrue but it did cause fear and confusion among international GEs. As a direct result, GTFF negotiated for the following language to be included in the GTFF contract (http://gtff3544.net/member-resources/policies/):

Section 1. In the event of a legal strike by any employee group on campus, all communications to international Graduate Employees concerning the effect of participation in said legal strike on the GEs visa and/or residency status may only originate from the Office of International Affairs or Human Resources.

– Appendix G: Letter of Agreement
Communication to International Graduate Employees

Are there any special precautions I should take?

It is important that the activities you participate in are legal, peaceful, and non-disruptive. Should an activity become threatening or disruptive or if violence appears to be starting, you should leave the area. This should not be the case in any demonstration organized by the GTFF but it is important to know because although International Students have rights to participate in union and concerted activities, their situation is more precarious than for citizens. It is the case that arrests, criminal charges, criminal proceedings, and convictions could negatively affect your interactions with immigration officials, and if serious enough, your immigration status. Engaging in acts of civil disobedience (deliberately breaking the law) could result in arrest and is therefore not recommended for International GEs. International GEs should feel free to participate in rallies and protests, including a strike, but should also be aware that if law enforcement is called it is a good idea for non-citizens to safely remove themselves from the area.

What should I do if I experience retaliation for my union activity?

If you experience or suspect retaliation from UO faculty, administrators, or law enforcement as a result of your participation in union activities, contact the GTFF immediately. The GTFF and our parent union, the American Federation of Teachers, are committed to protecting the rights and interests of all GEs at UO, including our international colleagues.

Who can I talk to with further questions about a strike?

Staff Organizer, Michael Marchman (stafforganizer@gtff.net)
President, Mike Magee (president@gtff.net)
VP for Organizing, Nikki Cox (organizing@gtff.net)
VP for Grievances, Ricardo Friaz (grievances@gtff.net)
VP for Equity & Inclusion, Hyunsoo Lee (equity@gtff.net)