TLDR: In yesterday’s jam-packed session, while CGE scored a victory in receiving DACA renewal fee reimbursements, OSU admin brought counter proposals showing a complete disregard for our needs related to housing, childcare, gender-neutral restrooms, and training for graduate supervisors. And they want to cut our COLA! While some battles have been won, there remains more work to do. The fight continues into spring!
The OSU administration’s efforts to divide graduate workers from the rest of the community are proving unsuccessful, with the latest examples occurring last week with a strong showing at the We Will Not Be Divided! rally; Provost Feser being forced to issue a correction of his earlier misleading statements about graduate-employee salaries; and the Associated Students of Oregon State University (ASOSU) passing a resolution in support of CGE bargaining efforts. Despite the OSU community’s support for a contract that protects graduate employees and pays them living wages, OSU admin continued to display their ignorance and callousness at the bargaining table.
CGE’s proposals continued to reflect our desire for whole-worker issues to be addressed. How can we do excellent work while struggling to get to campus? How can we feel comfortable in our workplaces when we have limited or no access to gender-neutral restrooms? How can we confidently report experiences of discrimination and harassment when the current system consistently fails us? How can we care for ourselves and families when OSU’s sick leave policies are poorly communicated and opaque?
- Transportation: We continue to push for OSU to expand the Beaver Bus hours of operation, provide a reduced parking-pass rate, and institute a new bicycle purchase and repair fund to encourage graduate employees to use modes of transportation that reduce greenhouse gas emissions.
- Restrooms: There is an urgent need for more gender-neutral restrooms and locker rooms across campus, but OSU lags far behind other higher education institutions in this regard. At our last session, OSU admin showed their contempt for trans and non-binary folks by striking all of our proposed language in this article; in our counter we continue to push for accountability and action.
- Union Rights: We have reached agreement with OSU that now 30 minutes of department orientations will be reserved for CGE to communicate with new graduate employees. However, we are still pushing for the University to inform CGE of the times and locations of department orientations with more advanced notice.
- Non-Discrimination & Anti-Bullying: We continue to demand that disability accommodation requests no longer require documentation from a third party, as these slow down the accommodation’s fulfillment and often incur a cost. There is no good reason for OSU to insult those with chronic disabilities by needlessly and perpetually demanding that they “prove” that their requests are legitimate. CGE’s non-discrimination counter proposal also maintains that an independent agency should be available as an option for investigating reports of discrimination, harassment, and bullying.
- Insurance: We aim to have insurance coverage begin on September 1st and to increase OSU’s contribution up to 95% in the upcoming year and 100% in the future.
- Sick Leave: Finally, while we continue to seek to enhance our ability to donate sick leave to others, we have agreed upon language ensuring that grad employees who return to work after taking leave will receive a position at the same FTE upon their return, preferably in the same position they previously held.
Additionally, CGE succeeded in pressuring OSU admin to respond to our financial proposals earlier than has occurred historically, and we were eager to see their ideas on improving the living conditions of their graduate workforce. Unfortunately, OSU’s bargaining team made no effort to meaningfully bargain and completely struck the vast majority of our financial proposals. They offered patronizing platitudes about the precarious financial situation of their graduate employees, but with their actions they have shown that after hearing numerous testimonies, OSU would prefer to ignore us and to deny any responsibility for the economic hardships they have imposed on us:
- Salary: OSU’s salary counter proposal included a 2.5% one-time increase to the minimum salary and a CUT down to 1.5% of our regular cost of living adjustments (COLA). These are paired with an increase in the minimum FTE to 0.35 in Sept 2021. This increase in the minimum appointment signals OSU is not willing to pay graduate employees more for the work performed, only to increase the amount of work that is expected. The intent of the COLA is to keep the buying power of our paychecks steady year to year, and a 1.5% raise doesn’t even cover the average inflation rate over the last decade, let alone the fact that housing costs in Corvallis have regularly out-paced inflation. Following these changes OSU completely struck CGE’s proposed sections for housing support, childcare benefits, contributions to the hardship fund, compensation for course development, and workload caps.
- Summer Session: Previously we had proposed OSU create a Summer Savings Account as a benefit for graduate employees experiencing gaps in their funding over the summer. Graduate employees often struggle to afford food, rent, childcare, and other necessities over the summer due to these funding gaps, but OSU refused to address these financial hardships and struck all of our proposed language.
- Discipline & Discharge: While some progress has been made elsewhere in this article, OSU admin has refused to budge on language concerning graduate employees who voluntarily or involuntarily lose their student status. Though OSU admin disagrees, we believe that those who involuntarily lose student status (e.g. due to visa issues) should be reinstated to their work appointment upon reestablishing student status.
- Mandatory & Paid Training: CGE’s proposal would address the knowledge gaps that graduate supervisors too often have about our contract as well as anti-harassment and anti-discrimination practices. OSU admin evidently saw no need to address these gaps and simply struck our entire proposal.
- Housing: CGE proposed the creation of a housing committee (which would enable graduate employees to have a voice in OSU housing planning decisions), a rent stipend and assistance with security deposits, and an elimination of security deposits for on-campus housing. OSU struck every single word of this article, stating that housing is not a permissible subject in bargaining. They “care about affordable housing” but do not care that the University’s unprecedented level of growth has caused the housing crisis in Corvallis. We will be coming back with a counter in the spring.
- Family Leave & Policies: Access to paid family leave is not only a matter of health and safety for graduate-employee parents and their children, it is an issue of equity since many graduate employees cannot afford to take unpaid leave. OSU’s sloppy counter contradicts their empty platitudes of valuing diversity and shows a shocking disregard for children.
- Tuition Waiver: CGE won a victory with OSU admin agreeing to reimburse DACA fees up to $495! However, OSU admin also insisted on keeping our credit requirements at 12 per term (much higher than that of comparable land-grant institutions). OSU’s bargaining team condescendingly claimed that this credit burden was necessary to ensure graduate employees finish their degrees on time, but you know what would actually help graduate employees finish on time? Making sure we aren’t homeless or have to work a second job just to afford basic necessities.
Finally, the importance of CGE’s proposals was amplified once again through powerful testimonies. The recent President-elect of ASOSU, Isabel Núñez, spoke about the importance of her GTA mentors at OSU and stated that when graduate employees have their needs met, everyone at the institution is better off. There were also multiple testimonies given regarding the importance of access to gender-neutral restrooms. Robert Schickler, an OSU faculty member from Nuclear Engineering, told OSU admin that it is easy and simple to change restroom signs to gender-neutral. Members also testified that access to safe, affirming spaces is a matter of life and death for trans individuals, and how it is absurd and transphobic to use protecting cis women as an excuse not to expand access to gender-neutral facilities. Finally, a member testified that OSU admin are public employees, and yet their salaries dwarf those of Governor Kate Brown and U.S. Senator Jeff Merkley. The member said, “I don’t know if your jobs are harder than the Governor of Oregon,” and called OSU’s budget priorities “professionally irresponsible.”
Bargaining will continue into the Spring term, though the format may change due to the threat of COVID-19. CGE will keep our members informed of bargaining updates, including when the next sessions will take place and whether they will remain in-person. In the meantime OSU has asked graduate teaching assistants to move to on-line methods of instruction, which can be disruptive and increase workloads for graduate employees who are already over-worked. We recommend that grad employees track their hours to make sure they do not exceed the FTE for which they are paid, and we remind grad employees that there is a process for which they may have their FTE increased to compensate for their increased workload. Feel free to get in touch with our organizer, Alex Riccio, at firstname.lastname@example.org for more information.
Rest up over the spring break and if you have further personal experiences that you’d like to share about how our bargaining platform would improve your living and working conditions, you too can submit testimony here.
Do you have comments, questions, or feedback for the CGE bargaining team? You can leave feedback (which will not be published on the website) here! https://www.cge6069.org/about/faq/feedback/