The GTFF will proceed with a strike on Tuesday, December 2nd. We are disappointed that stalled bargaining has forced us to strike, but it is now our only recourse as the Administration continues to refuse paid leave for graduate employees. After a year of negotiations, we cannot continue to wait for policies that ensure healthy teachers and researchers.
The Administration’s attitude toward and effort put forth in bargaining have been deplorable. The Administration has paid well over $100,000 on outside legal counsel to run bargaining with the GTFF. For months, they pushed for language to cripple our health insurance, disempower the GTFF’s Health and Welfare Trust, and ramp up student fees on graduate employees. The amount of money their plans would have saved them would have more than covered their paltry original wage offers. To say that the Administration has made great progress by eventually agree to maintain current CBA language—for benefits earned in previous bargaining cycles—is a gross misinterpretation of the history of bargaining over the past year.
The final, unresolved bargaining issues are guaranteed paid medical and parental leave for every GTF and wage raises to the minimum GTF salary to begin to close the gap between wages and the cost of living. The GTFF is asking for 2 weeks each of paid medical and parental leave. The Administration has refused to accept any CBA language guaranteeing paid leave for GTFs. They have offered the option for GTFs to apply for assistance through a new Graduate Student Assistance Fund. The GTFF worked with the Administration last week to develop the details of this fund as an alternative to paid leave. However, the Administration would only agree to let the details of the fund exist fund through a memorandum of understanding between the University President and Dean of the Graduate School. They would oversee all of the rules and regulations related to the fund. This is not a guarantee to graduate employees and puts our health, wellbeing and quality of work in the hands of the Administration. Simply put, this is not paid leave, and it is unacceptable.
The GTFF wants a raise that makes progress towards closing a $200 gap between wages and the cost of living in Eugene, estimated by the University’s own Financial Aid Office. The Administration has stated during bargaining that our wages “were never intended to meet the cost of living.” At a time when the University is not facing a budget crisis, it can afford to work with the GTFF to close this gap. Furthermore, UO regularly loses top graduate students to other institutions where they can afford to live.
The Administration’s push to save money at the expense of graduate employees is shameful. In September, the University’s VP of Finance and Administration, Jamie Moffit, reported to the Board of Trustees’ Finances and Facilities Committee that the Education and General Fund (E&G) at the University had a surplus of more than $11 million in the previous academic year. This grew the overall surplus from that fund to $65 million at the beginning of this academic year. The E&G is the fund associated with tuition and student fees. This is also the fund from which a majority of faculty and GTFs are paid.
The GTFF estimates that the final portions of their contract—paid leave and a wage increase— would cost the University around $320,000 over the two years of the contract. That includes just $52,000 each year to offer paid leave to all graduate employees. This is a negligible cost to afford all graduate employees at the University of Oregon working conditions that are conducive to high quality teaching and researching. The conditions under which we work are the same conditions in which our students learn. Guaranteeing high quality learning conditions for undergraduate students, many of whom pay upwards of $30,000 per year to attend the University of Oregon, should be a top priority of the Administration. As evidenced by this bargaining cycle, it is not.
Due to behavior of the Administration over the past few weeks, the GTFF has contacted the (State) Labor Board to file unfair labor practice (ULP) claims against the Administration. To date, these ULPs include: supervisors asking GTFs to complete extra or early work in preparation of a strike; supervisors directly asking GTFs about their intents to strike; and administrators instituting new workplace rules in anticipation of a strike. Such actions are illegal and work to intimidate GTFs against exercising their legal right to strike. These actions must stop.
The GTFF does not want to go on strike. We truly hoped that the Administration would work with us to avoid a strike. Instead, the Administration has chosen to push the GTFF into a strike. Administrative plans to manage a strike reveal the UO’s clear priority of money and power above quality of education. Canceling classes, changing exam formats, and hiring unqualified instructors is not a solution to dealing with the threat of a strike. The only solution that remains is to agree to a fair contract that supports graduate employees and the undergraduate students we teach.