TLDR: On Friday CGE and OSU had our first bargaining session of the Spring 2020 term, and for the first time ever the session was live-streamed so that grad workers could witness the session while practicing social distancing. The COVID-19 crisis has highlighted the significance of CGE’s proposals calling for a living wage, housing security, and paid family and sick leave. OSU agreed to several important pieces of our proposal on Sick Leave but fell short in other areas.
The first bargaining session of Spring term was contentious from the beginning, even as it was conducted entirely via the video-conferencing platform Zoom in order to follow social distancing guidelines. Our proposals–especially those pushing for fair wages, housing security, and paid family and sick leave–are more important for graduate workers than ever during the COVID-19 crisis. OSU admin, however, sheltering in the beautiful homes six-figure salaries pay for, and with far more security than any of us, expressed that they feel WE have asked for too much and shown insufficient movement during negotiations. These sentiments seem especially bizarre coming from the party who stalled passing back substantial proposals for months, and when they finally did they proposed that we graduate employees take a pay cut. Income inequality at the University, along with everywhere else in the country, has risen substantially. Graduate workers have watched our expenses outpace our so-called “cost of living adjustments” (COLA) while President Ed Ray routinely receives massive raises and the University spends lavishly on football stadium upgrades. We are asking for the resources we need to work and survive; just because the University does not prioritize our lives and dignity doesn’t mean what we ask for is unreasonable.
CGE started Friday’s negotiation session by passing back the following proposals:
- Salary – we initially asked for 6% annual pay raises to match what President Ed Ray routinely receives (an ask central to our Give Us an ED RAISE bargaining platform). We lowered this ask to 5% and added back in childcare support language that OSU had previously struck entirely.
- Tuition – we continue to seek for OSU to lower the quarterly credit requirements for graduate employees. OSU currently requires all grad employees to take 12 credits per term, which is way out of line compared with peer institutions and unnecessarily burdens graduate employees who are already chronically overworked. We also continue to seek increased benefits for our international graduate-worker siblings who face exorbitant costs obtaining the documentation needed to perform their work at OSU.
- Summer Session – we sought again for OSU to commit to hiring graduate employees on 12-month appointments where sufficient funds are available. The current status quo in which graduate employees do not know whether they’ll be funded over the summer or not until late May or June (when deadlines for many internships and other summer funding opportunities have already passed) causes unnecessary stress and undue hardship. We call on OSU to get their act together and prevent this stress and hardship by planning better.
- Mandatory & Paid Training – during the previous negotiation session, OSU admin struck this entire proposal down to the last word, showing that their commitment to preventing harassment and discrimination of their grad workforce is nothing but empty words. We resubmitted this proposal in full and told OSU admin that we expect meaningful engagement this time. Training supervisors not to harass and discriminate against us, along with paying graduate employees for all the work they perform, are very serious issues to us.
- Housing – continuing the theme of proposals that OSU admin struck in full, we resubmitted our proposal requesting the University provide housing stipends for graduate workers. Housing in Corvallis remains the most expensive in Oregon (no thanks to the University’s reckless expansion efforts), but it appears that OSU admin either haven’t listened or simply don’t care about the dozens of grad workers who testified to the seriousness of this issue. When we receive admin’s next proposal, we will see if this time they actually engage with us, or if they couldn’t care less about grad workers being homeless during a pandemic
- Family Leave – last session OSU point-blank refused to offer graduate employees any paid family leave, indicating that they accept the current situation where the only graduate workers who can heal and bond with their newborn are those who can afford to. This is unacceptable to us. Graduate workers are very often of prime child-bearing age, and nationwide a lack of paid family leave contributes to the United States’ having the highest maternal mortality rate in the developed world and the highest infant death rates among the world’s 20 richest countries. OSU is complicit in these harms by refusing this benefit which is necessary to protect the well being and health of children and families.
After passing these proposals, we received the following from OSU. While we are pleased with admin’s movements to improve our sick leave policy, the other proposals we received were insufficient.
- University Rights – OSU admin sought to retain their right to take away graduate employees’ livelihoods if their academic standing is disingenuously attacked. Admin claimed, “We have felt the university rights article has served both parties well in its existing form,” which is an odd takeaway from the testimonies grad workers have given about their experiences with retaliation from supervisors.
- Union Rights – OSU admin struck our language stating that the University must remit the Union for any member dues it fails to deduct. Admin claimed that they felt the employee and OSU should bear equal responsibility if the University fails to deduct dues correctly. That’s great that they feel this way, but state law would say otherwise. Admin indicated willingness to add our language back in once we explained the law to them.
- Appointments – Admin again refused to commit to prioritizing appointments for returning Graduate Employees, which is particularly disappointing in light of the unprecedented economic precarity that workers across the country are facing due to COVID-19.
- Work Assignment – The University showed some willingness to move on this Article, offering grad workers 20 days prior notice to the start of their appointment instead of 15. However, they remain unwilling to pay graduate employees for work performed (e.g. class prep) prior to the official start of their appointment.
- Grievance – While OSU admin did add some language allowing for extensions of the 30-day deadline to file a grievance in certain circumstances, their proposed language has no real teeth as it states only that the employer “may” grant such extensions.
- Sick Leave – In this Article OSU Admin agreed to much of CGE’s language seeking improved sick leave benefits for graduate employees. Yay, progress! Graduate workers will now be able to take sick leave without being subjected to the unnecessary and discriminatory requirements to produce doctors’ notes, and admin also agreed to modest increases in our sick-leave accrual rate.
While we are pleased with the victories we as a Union have won so far, we will continue to seek paid family leave, a fair and living wage, housing security, and a safe workplace free from harassment and discrimination. At the end of the session, OSU admin said, “I do think it’s very important for individuals to understand that the impacts of COVID-19 are real.” While this is true, who has a better understanding of the impacts of this pandemic? Administrators enjoying $250,000 salaries per year, or graduate employees struggling to make ends meet as they’ve designed and implemented ad hoc remote-teaching curriculum with impossibly little notice (while doing other unpaid work such as providing emotional support to our undergraduate students who are also struggling). We continue to encourage 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.
If the issues discussed above affect you personally and you would like to share about how our bargaining platform would improve your living and working conditions, you 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/
See you at our next bargaining session April 29th, 12-3pm!