TLDR: Nearing the end of bargaining negotiations, CGE and OSU reached five tentative agreements while critical issues regarding cost of living adjustments (COLA), the Hardship Fund, gender-neutral restrooms, paid family leave, and nondiscrimination remain contested.
In the midst of a global pandemic and massive uprisings against White supremacy and police brutality, we continue to fight for issues of equity, safety, and well being at a community scale in negotiations with OSU over our collective bargaining agreement (CBA). We started bargaining our contract in October 2019 – nine months ago. Our unpaid bargaining team has put tens of thousands of hours of labor into this process to ensure our members benefit from a fair contract that meaningfully addresses the many issues faced by graduate employees at OSU. We hope to conclude bargaining in our final scheduled session on June 10 at 2 PM. CGE brought several major proposals to this past session, and we will be discussing all the remaining articles next week.
During our last session on June 3rd, the parties reached a tentative agreement on (TA) on the following articles:
- Discipline & Discharge – Working quickly during caucus, the bargaining team was able to turn around several articles, passing back counters to OSU during the session in order to reach TAs. The Discipline and Discharge Article now specifies that graduate employees dismissed from their work assignment must be provided written notification explaining the reason for termination. Additionally, if someone loses their student status for non-disciplinary reasons, such as through visa issues, they will be reinstated to their appointment upon regaining their student status. These are important improvements that will help protect future cohorts of graduate employees!
- Letter of Agreement (LOA): Committee on Supervisor Training – We had originally sought stronger language that would guarantee that graduate employees would have support from their departments when creating teaching and research portfolios; that supervisors must attend anti-harassment and anti-discrimination trainings facilitated by an organization outside OSU and that these trainings would prioritize Transformative Justice over legal compliance; and that supervisors must attend CGE-facilitated educational trainings on our CBA. For no good reason, OSU admin were adamantly against all three of these ideas, but in the end the parties agreed to a LOA stipulating that representatives from CGE and OSU will form a committee which will recommend to the University objectives and outcomes aimed at graduate-employee supervisors focused on support, care, and prevention of harassment and discrimination. While we are less than fully satisfied with this outcome, CGE will continue to advocate for CBA training, portfolio creation support, and mandated anti-harassment and anti-discrimination training through avenues outside of bargaining.
- LOA on Housing – We reached a tentative agreement on a LOA for housing. This marks a historic point in CGE history as our first contract language explicitly about housing. Originally, we had proposed a fully enforceable Article containing several monetary requests (such as a housing subsidy) in addition to non-monetary requests (including CGE input into campus housing policy). After a four-month wait, OSU admins handed our housing article back to us with everything crossed out and no counter language proposed, and verbally indicated they had no intention to revisit this Article. However, sustained pressure from graduate employees and community members led to OSU giving in and proposing a housing LOA to take the place of the housing Article, with monetary requests eliminated entirely but many of the non-monetary goals retained. The major problem here is that unlike an Article, an LOA is not enforceable, which means CGE cannot grieve any violations of this LOA. However, its inclusion remains important symbolically and strategically, as an avenue into OSU’s decision-making process around housing issues and a strong launching point from which to secure a fully enforceable housing Article in future bargaining.
- Grievances – This Article has gone through more iterations than any other article during negotiations, and now includes language requiring that grievance determinations must be explained in writing. We have also improved the process for workers reporting incidents to the University Office of Equal Opportunity and Access (EOA) who have been harassed, discriminated, or retaliated against. A grad employee may have a union representative assist in reporting the incident and support them in attending EOA meetings. Grievances related to discrimination, retaliation, or harassment will now be filed directly at step three, which goes to the Provost or their designee. Grievances involving several grad employees across multiple departments shall also be filed at this step, rather than with several different department heads. These changes will substantially improve our preexisting process.
- Evaluation – We were able to win major improvements to this Article! Grad employees are now guaranteed that evaluations of their work performance must consist of more than eSET student evaluations (which have been found to be biased against women and people of color). We also won concrete deadlines by which supervisors must provide graduate employees the results of their evaluation, as well as clarity surrounding how quickly graduate employees are expected to ameliorate issues with their work performance.
While the list of tentative agreements grows, several major articles remain open, with OSU showing little intent to compromise or accommodate the needs graduate employees have repeatedly outlined. These are the proposals which OSU returned:
- Salary – OSU continues to pass subpar counters on our salary Article, though they did add in language that will bump up the minimum FTE to .38 by 2022. They had previously proposed bumping up the minimum FTE to .35 in 2021. While these changes do significantly improve the earnings of our lowest-paid workers, they do not address the increasing costs of living in Corvallis and other cities in Oregon where grad workers are employed. OSU maintained a cut to our Cost of Living Adjustment (COLA) and complete rejection of the Hardship Fund. We were able to pass this article back to OSU towards the end of the session, reiterating that these components are critical for grad employees. Despite reaching agreement with the faculty union, United Academics of OSU, that the University will adhere to progressive salary cuts that will not affect those earning less than $50,000, administration is claiming that cutting the COLA of people who earn half that much or less is necessary due to these “uncertain times.” We know that in uncertain times, we need to look out for the most vulnerable, which is why we continue to fight for COLA and the Hardship Fund.
- Non-Discrimination and Anti-Bullying – We are close to a tentative agreement on this Article, which was exchanged twice during this session. At the session’s start, OSU admins handed us their most recent counter, which had struck two key provisions CGE is seeking. The first provision is that workplace accommodations for graduate employees sought through EOA are not dependent on that employee providing third-party medical documentation regarding their need for accommodation. The second provision is that any graduate employee who experiences retaliation from a supervisor can file a completely new grievance over that retaliation, without worrying that OSU will deny the grievance on the grounds that it belongs under a previously filed grievance. We questioned OSU over their removal of these provisions. In the case of the retaliation provision, it seemed like OSU admins simply had not understood our intent, but after a detailed back-and-forth that problem seemed to go away, and we are cautiously optimistic that their next counter will account for this protection essentially as it is currently phrased. The discussion around the accommodations provision was more problematic, with OSU admins stating that they need an employee’s medical documentation “to have a comprehensive understanding of what limitations the employee may be experiencing so they can better facilitate” accommodations for that employee. This sentiment gaslights graduate employees by insinuating that our own primary assessments of our own workplace needs are insufficiently comprehensive compared to the twice-removed assessment of an OSU administrator reading a doctor’s note. This is the rhetoric of oppression in one of its most basic forms. However, we are trying to secure a good contract for GRAs and GTAs by the close of spring term, which means every minute matters during these sessions. We therefore refrained from extensive engagement on this point and instead chose to focus in good faith on their stated justification for needing medical documentation to “better facilitate” graduate employee accommodations, including through the use of signed waivers. In our end-of-session counter, we added language indicating that OSU may request medical documentation to improve facilitation of accommodations, but may not deny accommodations if such documentation is unavailable or if a waiver is not signed.
- Insurance – In what’s now becoming déjà vu, CGE continues to call for 95% of insurance coverage from OSU as other workers on campus have. Admin maintain that 90% “works really well” even though they have heard dozens of personal stories from grad workers who were forced to put off critical medical help because they could not afford care.
Several counters were passed by CGE to OSU, and we’ve made it clear that the substance of these counter-proposals represent our bottom line for this contract.
- Tuition – CGE and OSU have continued to go back and forth regarding how much of a fee remission we obtain. Our current 90% fee remission takes around $200 out of our pockets each year. We are now asking for a 95% fee remission. On the SEVIS/visa fee reimbursement, we are asking for just $200 more per individual. OSU is expecting a significant drop in international grads this upcoming year, and we proposed this reimbursement as a perk that will help attract top talent to OSU. We added language affirming that OSU should support DACA grads regardless of the existence of the DACA program, which is currently under threat by the Trump administration.
- Restrooms – OSU’s last proposal on gender-neutral restrooms on May 20th reiterated the disregard OSU “leadership” has for trans and non-binary employees, providing insubstantial language that lacked clear and direct action to increase the number of gender-neutral restrooms on campus and failed to adequately address the problems multiple grad employees have outlined regarding gender-neutral locker rooms. CGE passed back this counter maintaining that there be at least one gender-neutral bathroom per floor in newly constructed and renovated buildings, and that multi-stall restrooms be converted to gender-neutral restrooms where they are absent. Everyone deserves access to a safe restroom in their workplace; OSU’s continued refusal to engage on this issue shows how deeply ingrained transphobia is in this learning community.
- Family Leave – CGE made it clear that we will not accept a CBA that does not provide paid family leave. Research put forth by organizations such as the American Academy of Pediatrics and the World Health Organization have demonstrated that parents should take at least 6 months to spend time with a newborn in order to facilitate breastfeeding and promote physical recovery after the trauma of childbirth. Maintaining 6 months of breastfeeding also lowers the child’s risk of obesity, mental disability, and sudden infant death syndrome, and parents who breastfeed for this length of time have a lower risk of breast cancer and postpartum depression. It is low-income families, including most graduate employees, that benefit most from these paid leave programs, but currently graduate employees nationally have some of the worst support options when it comes to family leave. This often results in workers having to choose between their career and their family, which can lead to dropping out of graduate programs or not even pursuing a degree in the first place. Offering paid family leave will show current and prospective graduate employees that OSU is family friendly, committed to both parents’ and childrens’ health and well being. Despite these compelling facts that we have shared multiple times at the bargaining table, however, OSU’s last two counters to this Article have shown callous disregard for grad employee parents (especially women who are disproportionately impacted by such policies or the lack thereof) and their children. OSU’s team takes home large salaries and are able to access all of the family leave they need, but they are believe that we somehow deserve less. They are not better than us! Admin’s families are not more deserving of health and safety than ours! Several other universities including Michigan State University, the University of California, the University of Connecticut, the University of Illinois, the University of Illinois Chicago, University of Illinois Springfield, the University of Michigan, the University of Rhode Island, Wayne State University, and California State University offer paid family leave. We deserve no less. If OSU admin intend to wrap up negotiations this term, they need to start engaging and prioritizing this issue with us!
Hopefully, our June 3rd bargaining session will be the penultimate interaction between bargaining teams, with a longer final session planned for Wednesday, June 10 starting at 2PM, which may extend even later into the evening in order to reach a tentative agreement on the entire contract. Please join the Zoom session to show you care about these issues and are watching OSU closely! We have a CGE Discord server where members can chat with each other during the sessions too. Find that information in emails sent out about bargaining.
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, June 10th at 2:00pm on Zoom.