This evening, members of the Graduate Teaching Fellows Federation (GTFF) packed the auditorium of South Eugene High School for an Emergency General Membership Meeting. The meeting was called to allow GTFF members to discuss the final proposal made by the University of Oregon Administration’s bargaining team and to ultimately decide whether to hold a contract ratification vote or a strike authorization vote. GTFs have been bargaining with the Administration since November of 2013 and have been working since March of 2014 with an expired CBA (Collective Bargaining Agreement). After a lengthy and democratic discussion, GTFF members ultimately voted to declare impasse and hold a strike authorization vote in the coming week.
Negotiations with the University Administration over what constitutes an equitable CBA have been a long and arduous process. The GTFF bargaining team, composed of GTFs who volunteer their time, has worked tirelessly to defend against the University’s proposals to increase student fees and establish premium caps on our health insurance. Through those proposals, the Administration sought to transfer a significant portion of the risk of increases in healthcare premiums and student fees onto graduate students, all in an effort to save the University money. It took the Administration until the summer of 2014—a time when not enough GTFF members tare present on campus o ratify a contract — to finally offer revised proposals on wages, student fees, and insurance premium caps.
Despite the fact that GTFF members voted to authorize a strike last spring, the University has failed to make significant movement on the issue of paid medical and parental leave. Medical leave is crucial to providing a sense of security and safety to GTFs and their families, in cases of serious illness and when it is not safe, healthy or reasonable for GTFs to continue to perform work-related duties. Paid leave would also ensure a high quality of education for undergraduate students enrolled in courses taught by GTFs (one-third of all courses taught at the UO).
Finally, the issue of parental leave is grounded in issues of gender equity. The challenge of balancing graduate coursework, research, teaching and having a child—without even minimal paid leave—discourages many female GTFs from pursuing degrees in higher education and professional track positions. The UO would be a more competitive institution if it attracted and selected the best from all graduate student candidates, not just those without family responsibilities or goals. Similarly, parental leave for the partners of those who have just given birth would allow them to share in valuable household work and take part in critical bonding time with new children. The GTFF has urged the Administration to promote practices to ensure gender equity in classrooms, in labs, and across the campus as a whole; this process begins with how the Administration treats its graduate employees.
Throughout the bargaining process, the Administration has acknowledged the low cost of leave, (roughly $35,000 annually to cover the entire 1500 GTFF membership) but has stated that their opposition is a matter of “principle” rather than cost. This is unacceptable. What does it say about the values and priorities of the UO Administration that they refuse to pay a minimal cost to improve the level of undergraduate education on this campus and to guarantee equitable treatment of GTFs in UO graduate programs?
Another primary concern of GTFF members is obtaining a wage increase that would allow some of the lowest-paid members to come closer to meeting the cost-of-living in Eugene (numbers provided by the University’s own Financial Aid Office). During the spring term, the GTFF’s autonomously governed Health and Welfare Trust worked with its insurance company to negotiate a new health insurance plan for GTFs, a plan which will save the UO an estimated $250,000 in the coming year. The GTFF had hoped that these savings, realized by the GTFF Health and Welfare Trust, might incentivize the Administration to offer an improved wage proposal. However, the Administration’s most recent proposal still falls nearly $250,000 short of the 5.5% increase last proposed by the GTFF.
GTFs do not want to strike; we would rather agree to an equitable contract that prioritizes and values the work done by graduate employees every day on this campus. And yet the Administration has continued to prioritize profit over the health and wellbeing of GTFs and the overall quality of education offered at the UO. In light of these realities, next week we will hold a ballot election to authorize the bargaining team to call for a strike if the Administration refuses to meet the “bottom line” set by our members. As of tonight, the GTFF has declared “impasse” with the Administration; we must now wait a period of thirty days before we can legally strike under Oregon State labor law. During this time, we implore the Administration to reconsider its priorities and offer GTFs an equitable contract proposal that meets the needs of the graduate employees at the UO.