Going into this round of bargaining, our team did not expect very many challenges or bitter battles. Far as we were concerned, our mandate was clear: we are all employees, and that’s that. These last couple weeks, however, have left us feeling bewildered at the University’s ongoing insistence on making a distinction between employees. The use of air quotes when referring to work performed by RAs, explicit statements about RAs’ work being a selfish pursuit with no benefits to faculty or University, and contract language that excludes our newest bargaining unit members from things like workload protections and notices of appointment have
After an incredibly intense and emotionally draining session on Wednesday, it was clear where the University stood. In my own words, their position is this: RAs are employees for some parts of the union contract, but not “in service” for other sections of the contract (specifically, workload and appointment – their words). Despite having set an agenda to discuss appointment length during this session, our discussion inevitably turned to what has become a deep divide between the two parties. University’s team made it clear where they stood when they brought in contract language on Wednesday that had sections such as “The work performed in pursuit of a Graduate Assistant’s academic degree will not be covered by the terms of this Agreement.” Now, if you’re lacking context, this may seem relatively harmless. However, the entire RA campaign has been about those of us who are employed to do work on a project that simultaneously helps us write a thesis or dissertation at the end. With the University’s proposed section and their stance that RAs’ work is an academic pursuit, our new bargaining unit members would once again be excluded and differentiated. Much of this session was spent rehashing this argument and with 15 minutes left, the team began to discuss length of appointments. University team had said they would look into the extent to which term-by-term appointments are made so that we can look at the possibility of ensuring academic year-long appointments for all. However, it was clear that their team was reserved about this due to reasons pertaining to funding fluctuations and limitations. In fact, the only language OSU’s team offered was to limit appointments to no more than one academic or fiscal year. University team further said their data was not proving to be very clear in terms of prevalence of term-by-term appointments. The day’s session ended abruptly but with plenty of disbelief to go around with the way most of the session went. We agreed to discuss Letter of Agreements on Article 27 (Family Medical Leave), Ecampus tuition waiver, and Article 10 (Work Assignment and Work Space) on Thursday.
Thursday started and remained extremely quiet. Our team went in unsure of what the heck we could possibly get done when the University team insists that RAs are not “in service” if their work leads to a thesis or dissertation. We were pleasantly surprised and even encouraged by the way the subsequent discussion went. In relation to the Ecampus tuition waiver, our team restated our interest to be informed in a timely fashion about decisions pertaining to Ecampus tuition waivers. We were only informed of the recent extension of Ecampus tuition waiver when we all received an email from the Dean of the Graduate School. Being included in the process of evaluating this pilot program and making long-term decisions pertaining to Ecampus courses was again stated as an interest of ours. In discussing the Family Medical Leave policy, our team suggested an article in the contract that would include this policy. However, the University team was resistant to making policy an article of the contract because it would significantly limit their ability to amend the policy to address issues they encounter in implementing it. Both teams appeared to come to a mutual agreement that we will think about having an article that at least references and names the policy so that employees know it is there, and CGE will reserve the right to bargain over any proposed changes to the actual policy. Due to lack of quorum on the University’s team, we couldn’t actually propose anything but established a general agreement that until the need for amendments to the policy are no more, FML will at least be referenced and named in an article. We also discussed the possibility of finding some objective way to allow this benefit to be used more than just once in a graduate employee’s entire career as an OSU employee. University’s team suggested going back and looking at situations where FML was used to further understand the circumstances. We also briefly discussed workspace, but as you may guess, campus-wide resource limitations is a significant barrier in this area. Our team suggested that what we want is just a clear departmental policy that says what space is available for employees to satisfy their various duties. University was willing to go back and examine how such a requirement would be met by departments. Our final discussion was regarding work appointment. University’s proposed language only refers to Graduate Teaching Assistants when discussing work assignment notices. Our team made it clear that while we are open to being flexible on the length of time for notices, we felt it would be extremely beneficial in helping employees allocate their time wisely if they had a clear idea of what their work expectations will look like. This was perhaps the most significant point in today’s discussion because it then lead to this: an agreement between both parties that clear position descriptions that provide a picture of what TAs and RAs are expected to do would make it clear for RAs what they are paid to do and what part of their work is “academic pursuit.” Both parties agreed that this would be a piece of resolving our deep divide over workload protections for RAs. It is the opinion of our team that this new (albeit tentative) agreement, combined with revision in the graduate school’s grievance policy that would allow for grad students to grieve unrealistic expectations for research effort towards academic pursuit, would help us bridge the gulf between us and the University.
What have been some rough and challenging bargaining sessions have certainly left our team feeling frustrated and at times, very angry. We weren’t quite sure what we could accomplish given the University’s stance on the ERB ruling but Thursday offered a pleasant and much needed reprieve from all of the contentious debate. We are very happy to have had a productive conversation and are once again very hopeful about upcoming bargaining sessions. In the interest of having constructive and productive conversations, both teams have agreed to bring in a facilitator to one of next week’s sessions. Monday, June 3 at 9am our b-team will be at it again with new energy. Your presence and support will be greatly appreciated and a solid reminder of what we’re there for, so come out for coffee and donuts!
[post by Sneha Gantla]
Danny’s donut report: The key to day-old donuts is to microwave them very briefly.