TLDR: CGE won important language on sick leave, but good news was overshadowed by OSU’s proposed elimination of our cost of living adjustment (COLA), and their rejection of CGE’s childcare, housing, grievances, insurance, and training proposals. The discriminatory face that hides behind OSU’s emails about diversity and inclusion has shown itself. Join us for a CGE all-hands emergency meeting Monday (check your email for details) to discuss our collective next steps!
The next session is Wednesday, May 20, 2:00-4:30pm. Show up via Zoom to participate! This session was full of contention, read on for updates on OSU’s and CGE’s proposals, starting with those brought by OSU admin:
- Grievance Procedures – The last time we gave OSU our grievances article, we outlined a process for an internal review committee to create accountability and transparency for graduate employees navigating the process of filing a complaint through the Office of Equal Opportunity and Access (EOA). OSU countered with language that removed this committee, but we’re hopeful that we can come to agreement in the next iteration to ensure that workers who experience discrimination, harrassment, and/or retaliation are able to resolve these serious issues with the support of both CGE and OSU.
- Salary – Wow, where to begin? In our last session before the campus shut down on March 11, OSU proposed a cut to our COLA (Cost of Living Adjustment) to 1.5%. In an act of blatantly regressive bargaining, they are now proposing to cut our COLA entirely. Regressive bargaining is typically seen as an act of bad faith, but due to so-called “act of god” circumstances (such as a global pandemic), OSU is attempting to push austerity measures on some of the lowest paid works at the university. This is a shocking move considering the wave of wildcat strikes that consumed the University of California system since last December over this exact issue. This is a perfect example of how neoliberal institutions like OSU are using the pandemic as disingenuous cover to normalize brutal austerity and employee poverty, even as they continue to pay just three people (the president, the provost, and the football coach) a combined $3.8 million per year. OSU tried to hide the COLA cut under the shroud of a 3% raise to the minimum FTE. However, a one-time raise of 3% does not compare to the 2% yearly raise provided by our current COLA, which we had proposed increasing to 5% in our most recent counter. (Keep in mind that the University has regularly given its President raises of 6% or more.) OSU also rejected our proposals on childcare, hardship funding, and course development compensation in their entirety, showing total disregard for graduate employees who are parents, have financial emergencies of any kind, or develop course material for the university.
- Evaluation – We are nearing a tentative agreement (TA) on Evaluation! A big win in this Article is that we’ve secured a defined timeline (one month) for when graduate employees will receive a copy of any written evaluation. Rebuttals to evaluations may now be sent to CGE and/or the office of Employee and Labor Relations instead of the employing unit, which will provide added accountability to the evaluation process. Additionally, graduate employees who need to address work performances now have a month to resolve issues, with resource support from the employing unit.
- Insurance – OSU continues to lean on the status quo regarding health insurance. While we have continuously conveyed our desire to have insurance begin prior to or at the start of employment, rather than on October 1, admin claimed on Wednesday that they had not understood our intent. Addressing this start date involves negotiating with our health care provider, Pacific Source. We will continue to have conversations about how to make this change. Meanwhile, OSU continues to maintain that they will cover 90% of our health insurance, despite the fact that they cover 95% of other OSU employees’ insurance. In the midst of a global pandemic, admin asserted that they have no interest in aiding employees who graduate. We had proposed that OSU chip in to cover 50% of COBRA insurance for three months post-employment (it costs over $400/month), which they struck in their counter.
- Mandatory and Paid Training – OSU has repeatedly claimed to share our values, and has stated over and over that they care about providing anti-oppression and anti-discrimination training. However, they struck our proposal in its entirety again. Article X would have provided paid, union-led training for GTAs and GRAs that counted towards our FTE hours; ensured that employing units helped us prepare the teaching portfolios that grad employees need to be successful on the job market; and protected our members from discrimination and harassment by requiring that college and department heads underwent union-faciliated training on our CBA, as well as anti-oppression training facilitated by an independent organization. OSU clearly thinks that the current trainings they offer, which are unpaid and optional, are sufficient. When we pressed their team, it was obvious that OSU cares more about legal compliance than about transformative justice.
- Housing – OSU continues to strike every last letter of our Housing article, and instead moved to put some language into a Letter of Agreement (LOA) to form a committee including two CGE members and two OSU representatives. Housing is also a huge issue for us; we simply don’t earn enough to afford safe housing in the Corvallis area, and OSU refuses to engage with this desperate situation. You’d think they’d want their workers who perform the labor that keeps the university running to have a place to live!
- OSU brought us a Letter of Agreement (LOA) on childcare and housing, since they are unwilling to work with us on putting formal language on these issues into our contract. We already have an LOA on childcare–we’ve had it since 2014–and it’s done nothing to help our graduate parents access safe childcare, or be able to afford quality care for their children. The LOA proposes a vague, nebulous committee to “discuss” issues of childcare and housing (only for the Corvallis campus), and generate nonbinding recommendations to the university. We’ll be returning an updated LOA draft that will hold OSU accountable to make movement on childcare and housing.
Over the last 8 months of bargaining, graduate employees have repeatedly testified about their dire need for childcare so that they can have healthy schedules, instead of snatching research and teaching time in the evenings when their children are asleep. After every one of these testimonies, OSU administrators told its employees: “We hear you”. What does it mean when an institution repeatedly admits to hearing the needs of its workers, and continues to ignore those needs?
Even OSU’s own 2017-2019 Children, Youth and Family Committee explicitly recommends many of the same things our union has been asking for throughout these negotiations, including “financial investments in capacity and affordability of early care and education and after school and non-school day care”, improvements to on-campus services such as Our Little Village, and “systematic institutional support for cross-cutting issues that do not have a home (i.e., no one unit can resolve all of the issues related to OSU employees and students with children and other dependent care needs)”.
Despite all of this, on Wednesday OSU administration struck all of our proposals on childcare. When asked how continuing to discuss childcare would tangibly help graduate employees who need childcare now, OSU admins said that instead of focusing on narrow issues like childcare, they prefer to raise the wage floor so they can attract “top talent” to OSU. The implication here – that “top talent” is not those who need childcare – is blatantly discriminatory, showing yet again that OSU administration cares more about signaling “inclusion” in their emails than in actually being inclusive.
Clearly, OSU admin can’t be bothered to do the bare minimum to address grad worker precarity during a pandemic; It is really quite something to be told by administrators making $170,000+ per year that *we* should have to settle for pay cuts. Admin do not have to fear losing their housing, foregoing necessary medical care, or going without quality care for their children, yet they somehow believe it’s appropriate to balance the University’s budget on the backs of some of its lowest paid workers. In contrast with OSU’s discriminatory remarks and callousness, the proposals that CGE brought would actually make grad employees’ lives better:
- Tuition – We maintain our position that tuition waivers should not be charged to departments or PIs (unless explicitly outlined by the grant funding agency). Surprisingly, OSU admin didn’t appear to understand until we explained to them Wednesday that currently some PIs do in fact get charged tuition waivers, which is why we are seeking to change the contract language. We also continue to push for OSU to lower the credit minimum to 9 instead of 12. Admin feign concern about our academic progress, although if they truly cared about our academic progress they would make sure we have the resources we need–childcare, housing, etc.–that would enable us to focus on our studies. In this session, however, we called out admin’s true motivation to over-burden us with credits in an attempt to get more state funding.
- Summer Session – OSU had previously struck even nonmonetary sections of this Article under the guise of cost and “lack of work.” We reinserted softer language to encourage OSU to meet what should be a basic obligation of helping their own employees find work. Similarly, we reinserted language OSU had struck regarding the creation of a summer savings fund that employees can access in instances where the university cannot provide work for them during summer term. Finally, we reinserted struck language to ensure graduate employees are financially compensated for time and effort spent preparing to perform contingently offered summer work in the event that work offer is rescinded before summer term begins.
- Sick Leave – We reached a TA (tentative agreement) on Article 30, Sick Leave, at our session on Wednesday. We achieved several major wins in this article, including increased sick leave accrual rates across the board, increased carry-over rates and maximum accrual, increased time in which we can take sick leave as bereavement leave, and the ability to donate more leave time to our fellow workers in need. We also increased protections for graduate employees returning from sick leave, ensuring they are returned to a position with equivalent or higher salary and FTE. We need these policies and benefits now more than ever, and these wins will do a lot to protect members.
Thanks to the hard work of hundreds of CGE members, we have won many victories across the last 8 months of bargaining for all graduate employees. However, OSU continues to grow bolder in their attempts to use the Covid-19 pandemic as a smokescreen for cutting costs in ways that are discriminatory and damaging not only to current graduate employees, but to the long-term health of the institution itself. These attempts at unnecessary and often brutal austerity must be countered with the collective voices and actions of our 1,800+ members fighting for our common good.
To the hundreds who have already contributed time and energy into winning this contract: However small your efforts may have felt, please know that they have been critical. To anyone who has more time and energy to give, whether you have contributed in the past or this is your first time: We need you now more than ever! Please reach out to your departmental stewards, CGE staff, or anyone you may know on the Bargaining Team or Contract Action Team to find out how you can personally contribute to winning a stronger contract for all of us, our families, and every future graduate employee who follows in our footsteps.
Join us on Monday, May 18 from 5-6:30 for an Action Town Hall! We’ll be reaching out to both CGE members and administrators to let them know about how cuts to COLA affect our lives and to generate wider participation. Invite your friends and colleagues to this important CGE-wide event!
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.
We continue to encourage grad employees to 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.
CGE has a mutual aid caucus! If you need meal prep, childcare, moving assistance, etc., you can request mutual aid. You can also volunteer to give mutual aid to assist others as well! We are also accepting applications for the Hardship Fund. What’s a hardship? It’s any non-recurring issue including medical emergencies, legal services, housing deposits, evictions, maintenance, travel funds for a death in the family, etc., and child care costs. Find out more 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:
See you at our next bargaining session May 20th, 2:00-4:30pm!