Letter From the President: Bargaining Arguments

Greetings all,

This is Mike Magee your GTFF President and Lead Negotiator for our bargaining team. As negotiations progress, you’re likely to hear a number of talking points and canned arguments from the University about our proposals. Here are some counter-points to some of the more common arguments we’re likely to hear from their negotiation team and in University publications. Expect for their side to use most if not all of these arguments at the January 18th negotiation session where they plan to go over University finances.

  • “Higher pay and benefits for GEs means that undergraduate tuition will need to increase.”
    The University likes to argue that any increases to their operating costs must come at the expense of undergraduate tuition, but this couldn’t be further from the truth. The University is in tremendous debt from a number of huge capital projects like the half-billion dollars for the Knight Campus and renovations to sports facilities. These costs far exceed the pay-raises proposed by the GTFF, and the University plans to raise student tuition to cover these costs regardless of GE benefits and salaries.

  • “The costs of the GTFF health insurance plan are out of control.”
    The GTFF actually saved the University nearly 6%, or $580,000 a year, in the switch from Pacific Source to Regence as the carrier for the GTFF health insurance plan last year. The GTFF Health and Welfare Trust is a responsible steward of University funds and keeps any cost increases at a manageable level as required under the current Collective Bargaining Agreement.

  • “State funding is at an all-time low, so the University can’t give employees higher pay and benefits even if they wanted to.”
    It is true that state funding for higher education, and for the University of Oregon in particular, is very low and shows no signs of increasing. However, public funds only account for 7% of the University’s overall 1 billion dollar yearly operating budget. If the University really wants to give GEs a living wage, they could easily do so by reallocating funds they receive from athletics, private donors, and other funding sources.

  • “Higher pay and benefits for GEs means that other employee groups like faculty, classified staff, and others will get less in their collective bargaining agreements.”
    The University might claim that the collective bargaining agreements of the various employee groups on campus are in a zero-sum game for resources. This is a disingenuous effort to pit employee groups against each other in order to provide lower pay and benefits to all employees. The campus unions stand united to improve living conditions for all workers and insist that the university has the ability to give fair and adequate compensation for all.

  • “The GTFF’s proposals are prohibitively expensive and excessive; there is no way the University can pay for these demands.”
    No matter what our bargaining team brings to the table, the University will claim that they could never afford it. Our demands for a living wage, summer funding, and adequate childcare are what we need to live a dignified life during our time in graduate school and to focus on our research and courses, rather than worrying about making ends meet.

  • “The new Knight Campus promises to be a boon for graduate education and GEs across campus.”
    While we are excited for the kinds of research made possible by the Knight Campus and are looking forward to welcoming hundreds of new GEs into our Union from the expansion of the natural sciences, we shouldn’t accept at face-value the argument that it is a universal good for all GEs. Shifting focus away from the Humanities and Social Sciences indicates that the University doesn’t prioritize GEs in those disciplines in the same way, and the private connections with industry the campus explicitly touts raise concerns of public accountability and ensuring research from the state’s largest public university serves the common good. Our Union fights for the good of all GEs, regardless of discipline or research focus, and will continue to do so regardless of how the University shifts their own priorities.

Your bargaining team is eager to get back at the table with the University on January 18th, and we are optimistic that the University’s proposals will be designed to make GE’s lives and working conditions better. I hope to see you all there!

In Solidarity,

Mike Magee
President of the Graduate Teaching Fellows Federation