Bargaining Update – 4th and 5th Mediation Sessions

Letter from the President:

4th and 5th Mediation Sessions


Happy finals week everyone! While I’m certain you all have lots of work to do grading and writing, please take a few moments to read through this message as it contains important updates on bargaining and what to expect over the summer months regarding all things GTFF.

Bargaining Update:

Our bargaining team held two mediated bargaining session with the administration since May 10th. Though I wish I could report that we are on the verge of an agreement, our parties are still very far apart on economic issues. The main issue of contention remains the administration’s restructuring of our compensation package whereby our insurance and fees benefits are converted into cash. As described previously, this restructuring is not income-neutral. It would in fact result in a net loss of compensation while also damaging those who most rely on our current level of insurance benefits like GE parents and those with chronic health conditions. The administration remains committed to this restructuring, although they have made some movement within it, increasing their flat-rate contribution to insurance from $1350 to $1620 (with an accompanying reduction to the supposed “raise” this shift was meant to create). Our team has made incremental movement as well to match these small shifts.

Distressingly, the administration insists on cutting insurance cost-splitting over the summer months. Under our current contract, GEs who worked in the previous Spring Term and who don’t have a Summer appointment are entitled to our insurance at 20% of the premium cost (as opposed to the 5% during the regular year). The administration wants to slash this benefit that has existed in the contract for multiple bargaining cycles for no reason besides saving costs. That’s right: UO wants to make you pay 100% of the cost for summer insurance. Our bargaining team cannot take this suggestion seriously, and we have no intention of removing a longstanding benefit that hundreds of GEs use and rely on every summer.

It isn’t all bad news, though. At our session on June 7th the administration finally responded to our demand for paid parental leave! This is a benefit GTFF has prioritized every bargaining cycle for decades. In fact, paid parental leave is one of the issues that led us to declare our only strike in 2014. After experiencing the sit-ins in Johnson Hall, the picketing, strike card campaign, and our escalations of direct pressure, the administration knows that we’re capable of using all means at our disposal to win a good contract. In an effort to ward off any major disruptions, the administration proposed three weeks of paid parental leave for GEs! Though some of the details need to be negotiated – such as a requirement that new parents use all sick time prior to the paid leave, and that these sick days eat into the “three” weeks of leave – this proposal is a really excellent start and is cause for some optimism amidst a negotiation that has been marked by frustration and disappointment at the administration’s insistence of cutting our hard-won benefits.

Our next bargaining session is on June 19th. Our team plans to prepare a new economic proposal to try and make some real progress on this aspect of negotiations that has been in a log-jam for months. We will continue to keep you posted as negotiations progress.

What to Expect Over Summer:

At our final GMM of the year last week, the membership approved a general plan for continuing negotiations over the summer. This plan instructs the Bargaining Committee to continue negotiations over the summer with ongoing dialogue with the E-Council (the body composed of all department stewards and caucus chairs). The pace of negotiations will necessarily reduce, however, as our Bargaining Committee’s availability will drastically diminish due to summer commitments like research field-work, and the lack of general member presence in Eugene over the summer means feedback from members on negotiations will be significantly slower.

In addition to this general plan, the membership also voted to empower the Bargaining Committee to call for a strike vote over the summer if it decides that such a step is necessary. As our strike card campaign demonstrates, over 1,000 of us are ready to withhold our labor if the administration continues in this foolish pursuit of restructuring our benefits by slashing our health insurance. While negotiations remain mired, they are not yet at an impasse, and there is some cause to believe we might achieve a good contract that contains real improvements, not movement backwards, without a strike. There is no guarantee of this though, and it is conceivable that the administration will decide to declare impasse over the summer. Thus, to prepare for the event that either a summer strike proves necessary, or if the administration plays dirty and tries to impose a contract while our members are away, the Bargaining Committee has the authority to call for a strike authorization vote. As I’ve said from the start, we don’t want to go that route, but the administration needs to be on notice that we’re ready to mobilize for a strike if necessary.

Closing Remarks:

I know this year ends on an uncertain note. I deeply wish the administration had taken these negotiations seriously from the start and committed to moving on economics prior to mediation so we could be much closer to an agreement by the end of this term. However, that is not the world we’re in, so we head into summer and potentially the fall without a signed contract.

Despite this disappointment, our union has done a number of tremendous things this year that are worthy of celebration:

  • We achieved a record high membership level of 83%! This is a stunning achievement, and is owed to the hard work of the CAT, stewards, and activists who took the step to ask their colleagues to join their union.
  • We organized a Bargaining Committee and set of bargaining proposals that reflect the values and diversity of our union under the RAISE platform.
  • We mobilized behind our bargaining platform and collected 1,000 strike pledge cards that tell the administration that over 90% of our members are ready to walk off the job if they don’t settle a fair agreement at the table.
  • We built real solidarity and power with our sibling unions on campus in SEIU 85 and UAUO. We joined forces to demand the Board of Trustees to keep tuition increases low and Chop from the Top! rather than pushing the costs of budgetary mismanagement on  the backs of workers and students. I hope we continue this great work in the coming year.

I am incredibly proud and humbled to have served as President during a year that saw such powerful unity among GEs and workers across campus. As of June 15th, I will step down from this position and our incoming President, Ellen Gillooly-Kress, will assume the office alongside a new suite of officers. I will remain our Lead Negotiator for as long as it takes to reach an agreement, however, so you haven’t seen the last of me!

Thank you all for your support, feedback, and solidarity this past year – I wouldn’t want to be in this fight with any other group of workers, friends, or colleagues.

In Solidarity Forever,

Mike Magee

President of the Graduate Teaching Fellows Federation

To learn more about our bargaining efforts, visit our website.

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