UO’s mask-off moment makes their priorities clear

The July 6 bargaining session got heated when a discussion about international students’ access to summer funding and work opportunities led UO’s team to state outright what has long been implied by their stonewalling: They’re not willing to recognize what it takes for graduate employees to survive year-round in Eugene, and although their initial wage proposal would have resulted in effective pay cuts for GEs, they don’t think it’s their responsibility to move on salary. UO’s continued to insistence that GEs should be satisfied with any job, regardless of whether it pays a living wage, prompted incredulous laughter from GEs in the audience. But the reality under discussion wasn’t funny. In the words of our bargaining team, “We are talking about whether people can live a dignified life as graduate students at this university that recruited them.”

If you weren’t able to attend, here are some of the other highlights:

  • Our bargaining team brought five counterproposals to the table. Our counters included: increasing the amount of notice on course assignments for teaching GEs; creating more clarity around offer letters and hiring processes; reducing student fees paid to the university as a GE from $61 to $0; expanding the definition of a “qualifying event” for the Grad Assistance Fund and increasing the amount of available funds; and solidifying expectations for a joint committee on equitable housing.
  • UO’s bargaining team brought *checks notes* zero (!!) counterproposals to the table. Instead, UO’s team shared some information they learned about administrative deadlines that affected a memorandum of understanding (MOU) we had proposed related to the auto-enrollment of international GEs into the university health insurance.
  • They also invited a staff member from the International Student and Scholar Services office to speak on employment opportunities for international students—though international GEs made it clear during our caucus that UO’s description didn’t reflect the reality they live in.
  • UO’s bargaining team also made clear how they’re approaching our financial package: They’d prefer to consolidate all monetary benefits into the salary and health insurance articles. They argued that if we just raised everyone’s wages, GEs could use that money to pay for whatever they wanted. Overall, they claim that this would help with recruitment and retention. 
  • While this might sound great on paper, here’s why it won’t work for us. UO’s team has already indicated that they believe our salary proposal is too high—and this doesn’t even take into consideration the other financial proposals we’ve presented, which would help some of our most vulnerable and precarious members. In other words, the salaries UO claims they want to propose wouldn’t come close enough to covering all the other expenses GEs have for their approach to be realistic. It’s clear that what UO really wants is to post an attractive salary that draws in prospective grads, without actually being enough to support them while they’re here.

As always, you can read the full text of the proposals and see how they are changing on our Trello board.

Frustrating as our last session was, it was incredibly encouraging to see the number of GEs and allies who turned out. Lillis 211, a lecture hall that seats 103, was packed with GTFF members who cheered for our team and held up signs to protest UO’s claims—not to mention those who tuned in on Zoom to stay involved and show their support from afar. UO clearly wasn’t expecting to have an audience during the summer, and with their team heavily hinting at plans to eviscerate our proposals to support caregivers and international GEs at the next bargaining session, it’s more important than ever to show them that our members are united and are watching. 

Meanwhile, with only a handful of sessions left before fall term starts, not receiving any counterproposals from the university is unacceptable—especially when they get paid to do this. We spend our limited (and unpaid) time preparing for each session, knocking on doors, talking with our friends and colleagues, and showing up for these three-hour negotiation sessions to make sure we’re ready. We’re going to continue to show up prepared to every single session. We hope UO will learn to do the same.

We’ve done the legwork, counted the costs, and shown UO what our members need to live with dignity in Eugene. We’re ready to get real about wages. Are they?