Daily Emerald: “Graduate Employees rally as contract negotiations move into mediation stage”

GTFF picket

GTFF members and allies rally outside of Johnson Hall Thursday to show solidarity for the negotiation efforts with a state mediator set to step in April 26. (Becca Robbins/ Emerald)

Members and supporters of the Graduate Teaching Fellows Federation gathered outside Johnson Hall today in a solidarity rally as negotiations on a new contract between the organization and the University of Oregon continue into the fifth month.

Rajeev Ravisankar, vice president for the GTFF’s external relations, said that after nine bargaining sessions, it was important for the members to come together and show support for their terms.

“The big thing here was to show solidarity and show the university and the administration that we’re in this together and to show that they should think about how they bargain with us and see that we do have a unified front,” Ravisankar said.

The latest proposal from the UO includes a 1 percent increase to all Graduate Employees’ salaries each year of the three-year contract, which will be funded by pulling some money away from GEs’ health insurance contributions. According to the proposal, “UO currently offers lower minimum salary than other AAU institutions,” but offers higher health insurance benefits than its peers.

Cutting health insurance is not something the GTFF is willing to compromise on.

After walking through Johnson Hall with drums, whistles and banners, picketers marched outside the EMU chanting things like, “Hey hey, ho ho, we won’t let our health care go,” and “UO works because we do.”

A mediator will arrive on campus next Friday in an attempt to strike a deal between the sides that have been at a standstill since November. The previous three-year contract the GE’s were working under expired March 31.

According to an April 5 update from the UO, “While we have made progress on non-economic issues, significant difference remains on economic issues presented in the university’s proposal and that of the GTFF. We are hopeful that a third-party mediator can initiate new conversations and advance the negotiation process.”

Ravisankar said he’s somewhat optimistic the mediator will be successful in helping them reach a fair contract.

“I’m optimistic also because I think we have a strong presence, we have high memberships levels,” he said. “We have 1400 plus GE’s who are represented by GTFF and who are on this campus. That’s such an important group to take care of.”

While mediation must last at least 15 days, he said that process could go on for months, or the rest of the term, depending on how successful it is. If mediation fails, he said the members of GTFF would meet to decide what their next steps would be.

Ravisankar emphasized that although they are picketing and rallying in their time off, GE’s will still support students.

“In terms of actual classroom assignments, I think all GE’s remain committed to their assignments and doing them well and remain committed to students that they’re interacting with,” he said. “We really do value that and we value our relationships with undergraduate students. By not taking care of people who are actually educators in the classroom the ones who are grading in the classroom, it’s actually having an indirect effect on the undergraduate experience on campus.”

Source: https://www.dailyemerald.com/news/graduate-employees-rally-as-contract-negotiations-move-into-mediation-stage/article_ec3ed532-6239-11e9-94f2-bb8ee0340465.html