CGE and OSU faced off on Friday (05/25) during a bargaining session that mostly revolved around a discussion of fees.  As an observer, I found myself vacillating between feelings of exasperation and agitation as OSU skirted the real issue:  the rising and unaffordable cost of fees for grad employees.  After the action in Kerr administration of Wednesday (at which OSU President Ed Ray promised to talk to his bargaining team about fees), OSU floundered their opportunity to have a productive and efficient conversation about fees.

Beginning with a fees “expert,” the OSU bargaining team made the case that the discussion regarding fees simply was “too complicated” and required more time to look into because there appeared to be a law that prohibits the restructuring of fees that are paid through federal grants.  Personally, I felt this move was a strategic delay tactic, meant to stall the already long bargaining process.  Furthermore, OSU’s “expert” appeared to know very little on the issues of fees, and provided little more than a smoke trick that served to muddle the conversation.

If that hadn’t incited the membership enough, OSU then proceeded to itemize fees paid and asked CGE to prioritize the fees we didn’t wish to pay.  Jeri Hemmer, the OSU lead negotiator, even suggested that grad employees should have to pay these fees because “faculty and staff have to pay for these services.”  This race-to-the-bottom type of argument pits workers against one another and is a classic argument made against unions.  By citing the fact that other OSU employees have to pay for such services insinuates that the minimum level of compensation is what all employees should be held to.  Fortunately, our bargaining team was able to steer clear of this destructive conversation and focus on the real issue — fees.

Sensing that the CGE membership was not pleased with the direction of the conversation, CGE’s VP of Bargaining, Matt Loewen, skillfully steered the conversation towards OSU’s bottom line.  By making it clear that CGE wanted to see OSU make an investment in grad employees, CGE’s bargaining team was able to wrangle a commitment from OSU to financially invest in the coming contract.

The level of financial investment OSU is willing to make is yet to be seen; however, both teams committed to bringing proposals to the table on June 6th and 7th.  Although a huge step in the right direction, Jeri Hemmer stated that OSU’s proposal would be both “shocking and upsetting,” leaving observers, myself included, feeling disturbed by this confusing (and comical) tone.  If OSU is actually committed to investing in grad employees, they will bring a proposal on June 6th that echoes this commitment.  By eliminating fees for grad employees, OSU can effectively raise the standard of living for those of us who are on the front lines of teaching and research, thereby, improving the working and learning environments at OSU.

OSU should not be playing delay games with grad employees:  our lives, our families, our workplace, our research, and our learning environment all depend upon our ability to adequately survive in Corvallis, Philomath, Albany, and elsewhere.  With the rising cost of living, fees present a tremendous hardship for most grad employees.  OSU’s commitment to improving the living and working conditions of grad employees must be made apparent at the bargaining table, because our livelihood is on the line.  As we continue these conversations with OSU, it is vital that grad employees maintain pressure on OSU to deliver a proposal that works for all grads.  I am attending the next bargaining session on June 6th to let OSU know just how important fees are to me.  Join me there.

In Solidarity,

Wren Keturi
GTA — Womens Studies
VP Communications, CGE

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