After waiting on the Administration’s bargaining team for nearly 40 minutes, yesterday’s bargaining session began with the Administration’s team expressing frustration over CGE’s recent attendance and distribution of informational fliers at an OSU donor event. They felt their initial bargaining position had been misrepresented. Despite the fact that their initial proposal included eliminating from the contract the letter of agreement that gave grads the $250/term differential with no replacement, the administration felt it was unfair of CGE to characterize this (representing a wage cut of up to 13% for some grads) as their opening position. While the administration had indicated previously and reiterated that they wanted to hear what we wanted before they made changes to other financial portions of the contract, that’s what bargaining IS. There’s no point in this process at all if they won’t consider changes in their proposal based on what we want, but both teams agreed to state their initial positions in the first and second meeting. And I think CGE has every right to characterize their initial contract proposal as we have – elimination of the $250/term differential with nothing to replace it. In retrospect, it mostly seemed to me as though the Administration’s team had made its own bed, but then found it a bit uncomfortable to lie in (especially in front of wealthy donors).

After that unpleasantness, we went on to discuss important, but non-financial, parts of the contract:

Article 17 on discipline and discharge of graduate employees

Article 18 on grievances filed by CGE on behalf of grads

Article 19 on Consultation between the administration and CGE

Our goal in these parts of the contract is to make sure that CGE and the grads we represent are in as good a position as possible to resolve problems with their supervisors or the administration.

We came fairly close to agreement on Article 17 (discipline and discharge). One important change in the proposal made by the Administration is that it longer specifies reduction in pay as a possible disciplinary action. They had initially proposed this in the previous session and we had strongly objected to it.

Article 19 involved the conditions of meetings that CGE or the Administration can request to discuss important matters outside of the formal grievance process. This article received little attention, but it seems that we are close to agreement on this article as well.

The greatest amount of discussion was devoted to Article 18 – an essential part of the contract that stipulates how the CGE and grads can appeal decisions made by supervisors and the administration about their employment and provisions of the contract. This is the grievance process. The chief objectives in changes sought by our team were to seek more rapid resolution of grievances, to eliminate redundant or meaningless appeal steps in the process (where a previous decision is merely repeated by a higher level administrator), and to require the decision-making administrator to meet with CGE instead of allowing them the option of merely sending us a written decision. The Administration was resistant to all of these points. In general, the objective of the Administration’s team seems to be to prevent problems presented by CGE from being heard by the higher levels of the OSU administration, and to allow those administrators who do hear our problems the option of quickly sending off a written decision without meeting with us. If grievances brought by CGE are relegated to lower levels of the administrative hierarchy, we are more likely to receive the same unsatisfactory response that caused us to appeal the decision in the first place. The Administration’s opposition to mandated meetings conveys limited interest in understanding concerns brought forward by grads since an exchange of a written grievance and response allows far less communication than a face-to-face meeting. Furthermore, by their own admission, the Administration indicated that the individuals who will consider grievances as they are appealed to higher levels, are likely to have been consulted by those at the lower levels – which clearly makes some of these appeals steps redundant. If a step in the grievance process is to be meaningful, the problem should be heard and considered by someone who was not involved in the previous, unsatisfactory decision! The process currently proposed by the Administration seems prone to result in continued sluggish responses to grievances as well as the same limitations to communication that have frustrated CGE efforts on important matters in the past. If they truly intend to hear and assist graduate employees resolve problems, the Administration should be willing to commit to face-to-face meetings, should ensure that each step in the process allows a hearing from someone who hasn’t influenced the previous unsatisfactory decision, and should allow CGE to appeal decisions to upper-level administrators in the final steps of the grievance process. We are prepared to stand up for these demands.

Throughout bargaining, and at this session in particular, it became apparent that there are communication issues between CGE and the Administration that seem to be seriously restricting our progress. In discussions with the CGE team after the meeting, a large part of the problem seems to stem from the Administration’s consistent resistance to changes to the contract that protect the rights of grads and CGE – even if they admit that this is probably the appropriate way to handle things and that it is what they generally do anyway. The Administration seems to feel that CGE’s insistence on including such protections in the contract is unnecessary because they generally afford us these rights already. In some cases the Administration has even intimated that they feel insulted by CGE wanting to include such protections because it insinuates that the Administration doesn’t care for graduates. To the contrary, we WANT to believe that they are looking out for us – but we want to cover our backs too. And why, if the Administration means well, agrees that they generally afford us certain rights, and that it is the proper thing to do, ARE THEY SO UNWILLING TO COMMIT TO THEM IN THE CONTRACT?!! It’s a bit maddening, and is something that our team is likely to bring up early in the next bargaining session. It’s not that CGE doesn’t trust the Administration, it’s just that we want to have some of these things guaranteed in writing JUST IN CASE they ever becomes an issue. That’s the cold, hard nature of the business world and contracts: if you want to be sure that someone will do something, you get it in writing. As Jay Zarnetske (a member of the CGE bargaining team) quipped, “Just because there hasn’t been a murder in Corvallis in the last couple years, does not mean that we no longer need a law against homicide.”

In closing, our sincere thanks to our dedicated graduate student supporters who attended the meeting – and our apologies for its tediousness. Trust me – no one was more frustrated than our team. We will do everything we can to make the bargaining progress more rapidly while ensuring that the new contract will improve the working conditions for grads, and will allow CGE to better represent and defend our rights. We urge you to bear with us and rest assured that what we are fighting for (including even the less exciting, non-financial portion of the contract) is important – and that with your support we will prevail!

Please feel free to share your comments and contact us at CGE if you have any questions or concerns.

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