The CGE bargaining team met with the university’s bargaining team on Tuesday, February 23, at 3 PM in the Memorial Union Council Room. On the agenda: the presentation of all of CGE’s initial proposals and the presentation of some initial proposals from OSU. What follows is a short summary of the main things we took away from the session, and below the fold, a more in-depth recap, including all of the proposals both sides made.

  1. OSU didn’t talk much about the contributions of graduate employees or the role graduate employees will play in making OSU a Top-10 land grant school. CGE talked a lot about those things.
  2. OSU did, however, talk about how much graduate employees cost. They proposed to lower that cost by cutting the differential from $300/term to ZERO. However, we think they will be proposing to roll some fees into tuition on the 3rd, so we’re waiting to see what the net effect is before we counter propose.
  3. Some members of the OSU team also were skeptical that the CGE bargaining team knew what graduate employee life is like. As the union’s bargaining team is almost exclusively graduate employees, this was surprising. It could also be a potential roadblock going forward.

Overall, the CGE team was surprised at the harsh tone taken by the university’s team. The union’s team had told the university from the beginning that we wanted bargaining to be more collaborative and less acrimonious, but so far that’s been a one-way street. The team was also disappointed OSU didn’t acknowledge either the contribution of graduate employees to OSU or the fact that the union’s bargaining team has firsthand experiences with the issues we brought to the table.

The next bargaining session is Wednesday, March 3rd, at 2 PM in Westminster House (directions here). We’ll hear OSU’s final fees proposal, which is on the topic of departmental fees. Having lots of observers in the room last time made a big difference in the level of civility coming from OSU’s team, so we hope you can spare an hour or two in the afternoon to support the bargaining team and support ending fees.

(More below the fold.)

CGE Proposals

The CGE bargaining team went first. A summary of what we proposed (you can download the actual contract language here, along with a summary of the changes here):

  • Article 2: That everyone be covered by the contract and receive a letter explaining more about CGE and the contract when they get their appointment paperwork.

OSU didn’t respond much to this one, except to note that it was a permissive subject of bargaining. We look forward to talking with them more about this proposal, because it would solve a problem they outlined in their proposals on Article 8. This is also a revenue-neutral move for the university.

  • Article 9: That units who hire GTAs but don’t award degrees be required to post the job opening online in a central location for two weeks before they hire. (This excludes most academic departments so as to allow them to keep using funding as a recruiting & retention tool.) The bargaining team’s rationale is that this helps guarantee both fair hiring and that the most qualified person gets the job. Finally, given the amount and speed of the changes OSU is undergoing, we think it would be useful for grads to have one place to look for funded positions.

Aside from claiming that this was also permissive, the university didn’t respond much to our proposals on this article either. We also proposed some language requiring hiring units to include copies of relevant policies and procedures along with the appointment letter, and they didn’t seem too hot on that idea. The same went with our language that tried to clarify that graduate employees have a right to know how their departments conduct hiring. We’ll certainly be talking to them more about this.

  • Article 11: That the minimum salary be increased to match the OSU Graduate School’s own recommendation and that there is a 1% increase to the minimum for every term a graduate employee is funded. This is in line with our practice of seeking to create a minimum stipend but not preventing departments from paying more while simultaneously getting at cost of living increases and helping the people who make the least.

Oddly, aside from claiming that “we don’t consider summer a term” – we said it counts towards the 1% minimum increase on the grounds that the work done in the summer is still, you know, work – the university didn’t object too much to this one. We’ll probably hear more about it the next time we meet.

  • Article 11: That the cap on hours be measured over the actual term of 11 weeks, rather than the 13-week quarter. This would change the per-term hour cap of 255 hours at 0.49 FTE to 219 hours.

This ruffled some feathers. Their initial reaction was something like “so you expect to work less and get paid more?” At first glance, that’s what this looks like. But the bargaining team realized two things: 1) For the most part, OSU’s peers measure the hour cap against the academic term + finals and do not add two weeks’ worth of hours on top of that, and b) someone working 255 hours over 11 weeks works 23+ hrs/week, or around 0.57 FTE, which is well over the official 0.49 cap. Both of these suggest that the current practice needs to be changed. Additionally, the team is not convinced that people’s hours will actually change that much if this goes into effect, since most departments’ weekly estimate is already in line with this.

Some members of their team also seemed not to believe us when we suggested that graduate employees are sometimes overworked. This was a surprise, since there was only one person on their team who has ever worked with graduate employees that we know of, and he was silent during this part of the discussion. More on this in the conclusions section.

  • Article 11: That the university reexamine GA assignment FTE when the workload has obviously changed, like when the enrollment cap for a class is changed, and that FTE or workload be addressed automatically if a GA can provide evidence of overwork.

The language we proposed was predicated on the idea that as OSU changes, graduate employee assignments will change, and we want a process in place that allows GAs to get their FTE adjusted without filing a grievance against the university, which is the current route when informal discussions fail. When we proposed it, the university’s bargaining team seemed hurt that we would propose this change in the absence of a formal grievance or grievances. In the ensuing discussion, it became clear that they don’t understand the relationship between graduate employees and supervisors, especially when one’s supervisor is also one’s advisor, and that they especially don’t understand the power dynamics related to having one’s academic life – both current and future – rely so heavily on one’s employment supervisor.  Charitably, this is a consequence of their team lacking people who work directly with graduate employees.

  • Article 11: That all fees associated with the credits for which tuition is waived also be waived.

Despite the short summary, this is the big one. OSU didn’t respond to this proposal, but they are offering some of their own on fees. Scroll down to their proposals to see what they’ve offered so far.

  • Article 11: That e-Campus classes, when taken as part of someone’s program of study, be explicitly covered under the tuition waiver.

This is the result of OSU deciding that since they treat e-Campus courses differently internally, the tuition waiver should not apply. We disagree, but rather than file a grievance, are trying to deal with this through bargaining. Our rationale is pretty simple: If you are funded, and a class is part of your program of study, tuition for that class should be waived. They were not thrilled.  Neither side has data on how often this happens, so no one knows if this would actually cause any loss in revenue.  CGE knows of one case where someone might avoid taking a class that they should because they can’t get the tuition waived.

  • Article 28: That OSU increase their contribution to employee health insurance to 100% of the monthly premium year round, and that OSU pay 25% of the spouse and dependent premiums.

This is based on both need and the desire for OSU to be more competitive, especially when recruiting and retaining nontraditional students. There’s not really any magic here; it is a cost to them, but it is a cost the bargaining team feels is worth it. Their initial reaction did not make it seem like they agree with that statement.

OSU Proposals

OSU is only making three proposals during this round of negotiations, and we received two of them during the session:

  • Article 8 – Union Rights. OSU proposed a series of changes to this article. Two stood out: One, that they don’t want to recognize the Associate Member category, meaning they don’t want to allow for automatic dues deduction for Associate Members; and two, that every time someone leaves the bargaining unit and comes back in, they have to reauthorize the deduction of dues from their paycheck.

These changes are pretty clearly the result of an ongoing disagreement CGE has with OSU over dues deduction procedures and how difficult it is for the university to track three deduction amounts (fair share, Full, and Associate). Our response can be found in our proposal on Article 2 – if everyone is covered by the contract, the Associate Member category also ceases exist. We mentioned that as a solution to the problem they presented here, and they didn’t see the humor.

The other thing about their Article 8 proposals that has somewhat confused the bargaining team is that a major part of the disagreement between CGE and OSU over dues deduction is what to do when there is a clerical error in deduction (given how many pieces of data are processed for dues deduction alone, there will inevitably be errors; this is a part of life). Nothing in their proposals addressed creating a procedure the two parties could use to resolve mistakes.  Instead, at first glance, it looks like they are proposing a ‘solution’ that would weaken CGE but not actually solve any problems.

  • Letter of Agreement – Differential. This was the big one; we knew they were going to propose a change to this letter, and we thought it was in the direction of a proper fee waiver and away from the differential, which could be a very good move. But when they handed us their proposal for the new text of this letter, all the text had been removed and replaced with one word: RESCINDED.

Yup. Their entire proposal was to eliminate the differential. Before you get up in arms, the university did not reveal their final proposal, which is going to affect the Letter of Agreement we have with them on departmental fees. We’ve heard rumors they intend to roll some fees into tuition, but have no idea which ones. Given that, we must consider their two proposals on fees as a group, so getting up in arms about this one before we see the other half is a bit premature.


While more acrimonious than we would like at times, we think the session was ultimately productive. The first two things we’re taking away can be grouped together:

  • OSU is, unsurprisingly, focused on cost. The clear message the bargaining team heard was that given the state of the budget, proposals from CGE that would cost the university more money will not be well received.
  • OSU mentioned a few times that faculty and classified staff are taking cuts, and the clear implication was that CGE should also agree to cuts. We think this logic is completely wrong for the following reasons:
  1. The amount of money we are talking about when dealing with graduate employees is insignificant when compared to the overall costs of faculty and classified staff to OSU.
  2. Cutting the take-home pay of people who only take home enough pay to scrape across the poverty line, as grads do, is punitive. This isn’t just about relative pay, but an absolute floor.
  3. But wait, you say! Classified staff are often near the poverty line as well, and they took cuts. Yes, they did – against their will. We’ve spoken with their leadership, and they would never expect another group on campus to take cuts just because they did. That runs counter to their mission.
  4. But faculty are taking furlough days! Yes, and we had people in the room when the Faculty Senate debated it. The debate was not democratic, and there are significant questions about whether or not the furlough program is even legal, in addition to the question of why the Faculty Senate – tasked specifically with dealing with curriculum – even debated faculty pay at all. Besides, OSU faculty pay is very low compared to our peers, so we don’t thinking potentially lowering it any more is a good idea.

OSU seems to be approaching CGE as a very traditional union, failing to recognize those things that make graduate employment unique. For example, there were a few things that OSU did not bring up of their own volition during the bargaining session.

  • OSU 2025 – nor any variant of that. Nothing they presented or said indicated they are thinking at all about the role of graduate employees when it comes to improving OSU’s standing. When we asked how a regressive proposal would help OSU become more competitive, they indicated that we need to wait and see what their final fees proposal will be (see earlier in the post where we discuss the fee proposal they did drop and how it needs to be viewed as a package with their other, as-yet-unrevealed fee proposal). While we are hopeful that the proposal is positive, past experience suggests that it will actually reduce take-home pay, not increase it. We’ll find out March 3rd.
  • Quality of Education. We talked about some of our proposals, specifically around workload, as a way to preserve or even increase educational quality. OSU all but ignored this.
  • The contribution of graduate employees to OSU in general. Almost all of their response to our proposals focused on how expensive graduate employees are to OSU, but they never once brought up the contribution we make to the university. We suspect this is a function of who is on their team – again, there was only one faculty or former faculty sitting at the table of which we are aware. Nevertheless, we found the ignorance of graduate employee life disconcerting, and we hope OSU manages to avoid making it a barrier during negotiations. When done right, we think bargaining is an opportunity for OSU and CGE to work together to improve things at OSU. Pretending grads are not a part of that is a real problem.

There was one other theme that reared its ugly head a few times during the session: That some member of OSU’s team didn’t think they needed to listen to the CGE bargaining team when we talked about the realities of graduate employee life. At one point, one member of their team told us he saw no reason to listen to what we said going forward because they thought some of the estimates we had presented their team on peer comparator pay were incorrect. That is certainly possible – that’s why we called them estimates when we handed them over, and suggested that we would love for them to do their own research, because we thought they might be able to get better data. Additionally, they demanded witnesses – as if the people sitting at the table were not also graduate employees.

Somewhat tellingly, most of the acrimony happened after the majority of graduate employee observers had left the room.

For these negotiations to be successful, both parties must participate as equals, and on the university’s part, that means acknowledging that no one knows graduate employee life better than the graduate employees that live it. If they can’t manage to do that, it doesn’t bode well.

2 Thoughts on “CGE Bargaining: We Present Initial Proposals, OSU Presents (Some) Initial Proposals, and Things Get Sharp”

  • Given the current economic situation and it’s ramifications (faculty and staff furloughs; service cuts) why did the union chose to re-open the contract? With luck, the union will be able to maintain the status quo. More realistically graduate employees are likely to lose their current fee stipend. If the later occurs, I would not consider this progress or good representation.

    But the union can always call for a strike……oh, wait….the “union” gave up that right. I guess the fall back plan is incessant, childish whining?

    • Stephen,

      There are at least two reasons CGE would choose to open the contract:

      1. Non-economic items. We have made proposals on the way appointments are handled and who is covered by the contract, among others. Just because the economic climate isn’t great doesn’t mean we shouldn’t address other areas. In fact, we think some of the bargaining team’s proposals are pretty timely given the restructuring the university is going through.

      2. Even given the less-than-ideal economic conditions, the bargaining team believes that we need to make progress on economics. Graduate employees, compared to faculty and staff, don’t actually cost the university that much, and any gains we make could make a big difference to grads. Our initial guess was that the university administration wouldn’t be seriously interested in significant cuts, and so far that looks to have been true. That could change, of course.

      Glad to see you’re following bargaining, though. Feel free to come observe a session or two next term!

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