Bargaining FAQ (2023-24)

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Table of Contents

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Bargaining Basics

What is bargaining?

Collective bargaining is the process by which we negotiate the terms of our employment directly with the university. We, as the GTFF, negotiate on behalf of all GEs at the UO, and we meet directly with the UO administration to hash out what our wages, benefits, and working conditions are. Our current contract expired as of June 15, 2023, so it’s time to fight for what we need in our next contract!

What’s happened so far?

The GTFF Bargaining Team began meeting and exchanging article proposals with UO’s team in February 2023. As of September 14, we have had 13 bargaining sessions. Check out our public Trello board to see our full proposals!

What happens next? 

After 150 days of open bargaining, either team can call for mediation, which the state mediator typically sets as closed-door. This means that discussions at the bargaining table could be restricted to the GTFF and UO teams only. We requested mediation on August 24, and our first meeting with the mediator has been scheduled for October 4. However, members are still able to show up in our caucus rooms and around the meeting room to participate/engage with the process. You can keep showing up to support the team!

What is mediation?

In mediation, a third-party mediator from the state Employment Relations Board (ERB) is brought in to facilitate bargaining between us and the UO. The mediator’s job is to push both teams to make concessions in order to reach an agreement. If we cannot reach an agreement, either team can declare impasse after 15 days of mediation. This 15-day timeline begins when both teams have their first session with the mediator present.

What is a mediation proposal?

Mediation proposals are more tentative than formal bargaining proposals. They allow the teams to have more flexibility in the content of their counters, and ideally to make more progress! But they aren’t legally binding, so the progress they make isn’t necessarily final.

What is impasse?

After 15 days of mediation, either side and/or the mediator can decide that no further progress toward settlement can be made through mediation. Declaring “impasse” calls a halt to bargaining and both sides have seven days to submit their “last best offer.” After this offer begins a 30-day “cooling-off” period. We will likely continue to meet with UO’s team during the “cooling-off” period. During this time, GTFF may collect strike pledges and ultimately GEs can vote to authorize the bargaining team to declare an intent to strike.

What is a strike pledge?

A strike pledge is an agreement to honor a strike if the membership authorizes the Bargaining Team to declare one. By signing this pledge, you’re agreeing to exercise your own legal right to withhold labor as a part of a collective strike, if we decide through a democratic process that it’s necessary to do so. All GEs, including international GEs, have the right to participate in legally protected strike action. 

Signing a strike pledge doesn’t mean you’re authorizing a strike, yet. The strike authorization vote is a separate process. However, when we do hold that authorization vote, we don’t want to be guessing about whether or not the Bargaining Team has member support. The strike pledge gives us an opportunity to build consensus among our membership, pull more people into our campaign, and to have important conversations, member to member, about what it would mean to strike and what we are willing to do as a collective to win what we need.

What happens if an agreement can’t be reached?

At the end of the “cooling off” period, UO can impose its new contract. If we do not agree with their imposed contract, the bargaining team can declare an intent to strike. After membership votes to authorize a strike and the bargaining team declares an intent to strike, GEs can legally withhold our collective labor until an agreement with UO is reached.

It’s important to note that if our membership voted to authorize a strike, we could only legally withhold our GE labor in a protected strike over mandatory bargaining topics. (An explanation of mandatory and permissive topics is below. Click here to jump to an explainer of how they relate to strike activity.)

What are mandatory bargaining topics and permissive bargaining topics?

Mandatory bargaining topics are those which the UO, as our employer, is legally required to negotiate with GTFF over. These are topics which directly impact “wages, hours, and working conditions” or otherwise have a “significant impact on employees.”

Permissive (or non-mandatory) bargaining topics are those which the UO is not legally required to negotiate over. These designations are decided by the National Labor Relations Board and Oregon Employment Relations Board.

Mandatory topics include things like: wages & benefits, grievances, health & safety, nondiscrimination, no-strike clauses, length of contract, and discipline policies.

Some permissive topics may include: some targeted support for groups of workers (i.e. some proposals in the International GE Article & Caregiver Articles), housing, summer funding, etc.

The distinction between mandatory and permissive bargaining topics is not always clear. While we know the law’s general guidelines, we can’t say for certain whether some of our specific asks qualify as mandatory or permissive. In the case of a labor dispute, the designation would be determined by the Oregon Employment Relations Board.

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Our Proposals

How do current wages at UO compare with those at other universities?

Not well! We compared UO’s minimum GE salary rates with those of 31 peer institutions. When we calculated those rates as a percentage of living wage in each institution’s home city, UO came in dead last. Here’s the data.

What would my salary look like under the current wage proposals?

Our data team has created a salary calculator to help you figure out what the raises proposed by UO and GTFF would mean for your paycheck. The numbers in this chart correspond to the last offers exchanged as of December 5, 2023. As both sides continue to negotiate, you can use the “Custom Proposal” column to test the newest numbers. Check it out here.

Where have tentative agreements been reached?

We’ve reached TAs, or tentative agreements, on Article 3 (Union Rights); Article 8 (Non-Discrimination & Anti-Harassment); Article 9 (Work Agreement/Work Assignment); Article 10 (Health, Safety, Work Environment); Article 12 (Evaluations); Article 16 (Discipline/Discharge); Article 25 (Respectful Workplace & Support Services); Article 30 (Graduate Assistance Fund); Article 31 (GE Training/Professional Development); Article 35 (Successor Agreement); New Article XX1 (Support & Resources for International GEs); New Article XX2 (Caregiving Support Article); Appendix A (Data Delivery & FERPA Waiver); Appendix L (Innovations in Health Care); and MOU – International Student Summer Support.

What have we won so far?

GTFF has already won some major demands in our fight for a fair contract! These wins are a testament to the strength of our membership. Among other things, we’ve secured the following:

  • Caste has been added as a protected category to our nondiscrimination article. (Article 8)
  • UO has agreed to nondiscrimination protections against supervisors misgendering GEs, affirming that persistent, ongoing refusal or failure by supervising university employees to respect a GE’s reported gendered language is prohibited by the contract. (Article 8)
  • UO has agreed to increase the minimum FTE for the first time in decades, meaning more income for the lowest paid GEs. (Article 22)
  • We have updated language to protect international GEs who may not be able to return to work for reasons beyond their control (including immigration status). (Article 12)
  • UO must respond to ADA requests within 14 days. (Article 10)
  • We have improved conditions for lactation and nursing protections. (Article 10)
  • UO will reimburse GEs for certifications required by their hiring units. (Article 10)
  • New evaluative options and timelines must be stated in department-level GDRS documents. (Article 12)
  • The UO will replenish the Graduate Assistance Fund if it drops below $25,000. (Article 30)
  • We have established new qualifying events for the Graduate Assistance Fund, including unexpected removal from housing unrelated to lease violations; international GE summer expenses; and death of a child, parent, or spouse. (Article 30)

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Know Your Rights

What are my rights as an international GE to participate in union activities?

Short answer: International GEs have full legal rights as employees to participate in union activities, including strikes. 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 concerted activities for foreigners in the U.S. (including foreign students with visas) just as they are for U.S. nationals.

Will my union membership or union activity affect my student visa?

In over 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. There is no known case of any international student begin expelled from the university as a result of union activities, nor would such expulsion be legal.

Are there any special precautions I should take as an international GE?

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. 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. 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 your steward or other GTFF leadership immediately. The GTFF and our parent union, the American Federation of Teachers, are committed to protecting the rights and interests of all GEs.

If our membership voted to authorize a strike, we could only legally withhold our GE labor in a protected strike over mandatory bargaining topics–that is, the topics UO is legally required to negotiate with us over. (Click here to jump to the mandatory bargaining topics explainer.)

During a legal strike over mandatory bargaining topics, all GEs (including international GEs and non-members) would have the protected legal right to withhold their labor.

Could GTFF strike over permissive topics if members were especially committed to those issues?

GTFF leadership cannot declare an illegal strike or otherwise authorize violations of labor law. Although we are committed to winning a contract that meets the needs of all GEs, we also have to protect our union from legal and financial liability.

GTFF leadership will only declare intent to engage in protected strike activity if our membership votes to authorizes it and deems it necessary to do so.

If GEs engaged in a strike without the authorization of union leadership, this would be called a wildcat strike. During a wildcat strike, the usual legal protections don’t apply.

Wildcat strikes have been used effectively many times in history. However, they can be a high-risk strategy with particular legal risks for international workers on visas.

With that said, any strike that is not a wildcat strike–that is, a strike that is authorized by members and declared by leadership within the legal timeline–would be legally protected for both international & domestic Graduate Employees.

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Take Action!

How do I talk to fellow GEs about bargaining?

In order to build a credible strike threat, we need to build our collective power! Forming strong relationships with other GEs and talking to them about bargaining is an important step for our union’s overall strength and solidarity. Here’s a few activation questions to help you get started:

  • What changes to your working conditions do you need to see in order to continue in your program successfully? What issues are important to the other GEs you know?
  • What do you know about how bargaining has been going so far? Do you have any questions?
  • What do you think would it take for the GTFF to win substantial changes during this bargaining cycle? What do you think we need to do as rank-and-file members to help secure these wins?
  • If we decide to collectively withhold our labor (strike), how do we build the confidence, trust, and power we need to succeed? What’s the risk of not striking, if it becomes necessary to win the contract we need?

Other tips for talking with fellow GEs about bargaining: 

  • Prioritize building authentic relationships and trust. (This is most important! We need to care about each other!)
  • LISTEN to identify what issues matter most—don’t assume! (30% talking, 70% listening)
  • Focus frustrations on the boss! Bring up things like: working conditions, moments from bargaining sessions, UO’s failure to address needs, etc. GEs might not be comfortable showing anger towards their advisors or departments, but are often frustrated with structural issues. This is their chance to have an impact on those structures! 
  • Help address sources of skepticism; inoculate against union-negative messaging and misinformation.
  • Remember, no one is apathetic; all of us care about our working conditions!
  • Use “WE” and “US” language—remember, the union isn’t some mysterious external entity, it’s just the other GEs you work with every day, working together!
  • Encourage action! We all have the ability to help solve shared challenges and find or create solutions.
  • Make a clear, direct ASK at the end of the conversation (ex: Will you attend the next General Membership Meeting?)
  • You don’t need to have all the answers! Consult the bargaining hub for transparent & accessible info, watch our social media for FAQs, ask questions in Slack, attend meetings, and work with other members to develop answers!

How do I talk to undergrads about bargaining?

Undergrads can help support our efforts to put pressure on the university. Take a few minutes before or after your class, lab, or discussion section to talk about our bargaining platform! Here are some suggestions:

  • You are allowed to talk about the union and our bargaining efforts to your undergrads! However, limit union talk to before/after class time. Avoid using “work time” to talk union with students (unless it’s pedagogically relevant).
  • Wear your union gear! Your t-shirt, your buttons, your beanie—whatever you have. The more represented the GTFF is in your apparel, the more likely students are to ask you about it. Come by the office to get stuff!
  • Visit our Contract Action Kit page to print signs for your office door, download a GTFF syllabus bug to show “This course is taught with unionized labor!”, etc.
  • The university will likely try to frame GE salaries as tied to tuition increases in order to pit undergrads against us (the “greedy” grad students). Let your students know that we’re simply asking for a living wage. Share what a typical (very busy!) day looks like for you. Explain how your working conditions = their learning conditions.

If your undergrads want to know how they can support, great! You can encourage them to:

  • Communicate with other undergrads, parents, community members about GTFF’s fight.
  • Post on social media using #GEsDeserveDignity and #ThankYourGE hashtags. Tag us on Instagram @gtff3544, or on Twitter @gtff_3544.
  • Write supportive “Letters to the Editor” for the Daily Emerald, Insurgent, or other local outlets.
  • Attend GTFF practice pickets, rallies, work-ins, and other public events.

How do I talk to faculty about bargaining?

Faculty can be another great resource for solidarity and support as we put pressure on the university. Some suggestions:

If faculty want to know how they can support us, great! You can encourage them to:

  • Sign the open GTFF support/solidarity letter for UO faculty. (~180 faculty and staff have already signed!)
  • Make it clear to GEs that they respect their right to engage in legal actions to improve their pay and working conditions, up to and including striking.
  • Hang GTFF solidarity flyers (available in UA’s office) on their office doors so that GEs can see faculty support.
  • Communicate with other faculty and admin on campus in support of GEs, including through public statements.
  • Post on social media using #GEsDeserveDignity and #ThankYourGE hashtags.
  • Write supportive “Letters to the Editor” for local news or higher ed publications.
  • Attend GTFF practice pickets, work-ins, and other public events.
  • Discourage fellow faculty from crossing the picket line in the event of a GE work stoppage; ask faculty to stand with GEs when it really counts! See UA’s FAQ on a GTFF work stoppage.

**Keep in mind that department heads are considered “managers” and they shouldn’t discuss bargaining with you (they can be seen as representatives of the university). Other folks? Feel free to chat with them!

NOTE: It is a violation of labor law for the employer (including department heads or administrators, but not regular faculty members) to either actively support or discourage participation by workers in protected union activity, including striking. If a department head or administrator is asked directly for their opinion on union activity, they are allowed under the law to answer honestly.

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