TLDR: CGE’s bargaining team and a dedicated audience bargained for nearly 17 hours, finishing a little after 6:30am Thursday morning. We pushed for a strong contract and won. OSU admin agreed to improvements in existing language nearly across the board and the addition of fundamentally new and groundbreaking language too. Our wins from the final session include the retention of COLA language during a pandemic, increases to the minimum FTE, expanded gender-neutral restroom and locker-room access, paid family leave, stronger protections against discrimination and harassment, a University-administered hardship fund, and more!
After a grueling 16.5 hour marathon Zoom bargaining session, CGE and OSU have come to a Tentative Agreement (TA) on our entire Collective Bargaining Agreement (CBA)!
With eight articles still on the table on Wednesday, we knew we had a long night ahead of us. The final session included long, deliberative caucuses, especially since OSU “packaged” the proposals all together, refusing to TA any of them individually. Amazingly, fellow CGE members stayed with us all night long to witness the process, send us encouraging notes and hilarious memes, and even delivered the bargaining team snacks and refreshments in the middle of the night. THANK YOU to everyone who worked so diligently to get us here. Through laughter, tears, frustration, triumph, and dedication, we made it to morning and reached an agreement that improves our contract for all members in nearly every way. Read on for more information about the following articles: Recognition, Term of Agreement, Salary, Tuition Waiver, Summer Session, Insurance, Restrooms, Family Leave and Policies, Nondiscrimination and Anti-Bullying, and a Letter of Agreement on a Hardship Fund. The entire contract will be ratified by a member-wide vote in the near future, and remember that we had several other articles that we already reached agreement on. You can read about them more on previous blog posts, as well as access all of the articles we worked on this year at CGE’s website.
- Term of Agreement – Throughout the final bargaining session, both teams took firm stances on our Term of Agreement, which outlines how long our contract lasts and when we do a “re-opener” of a smaller amount of articles. OSU administration sought to expand the term of agreement to five years, originally seeking no re-opener. This would lock us into a contract without the ability to negotiate changes in the near future. Because of the fluidity of our bargaining unit–most of us are here for 2-6 years–the turnover of CGE’s institutional knowledge and experience would be eliminated between rounds of bargaining. We have had a four year contract with a two-year re-opener for nearly 20 years and had no intention of changing that. In the end, we maintained a four year contract. Our new contract expires on June 30, 2024. Our re-opener will occur in December 2021.
- Salary – While we appreciate that the University’s financial situation is unstable due to COVID-19, we maintain that our members, many of whom live at or below the poverty line, shouldn’t bear the brunt of the University’s misplaced priorities and poor financial planning. We prevented salary cuts and secured a 3% raise for our lowest-earning workers, moving the minimum FTE from 0.30 to 0.35 in September 2021, and from 0.35 to 0.38 in September 2022. This is an amazing result in light of OSU’s current financial situation. As employing units across campus face major budget reductions, graduate employees will not suffer cuts to our pay. However, we did take one hit – a temporary cut to our Cost of Living Adjustment (COLA). Starting Fall 2020 there will be 0% COLA, down from our current 2%. However, the language for the COLA was retained, which is incredibly important for future bargaining sessions once the pandemic has passed. Moreover, we guaranteed that our COLA cut will relax to 1% after one year and disappear entirely after two, returning our COLA to 2% in 2022. This temporary reduction is frustrating, but in a climate of base salary cuts nationwide the language and fixed timelines we secured are a victory. OSU had proposed a cut to our COLA even before the pandemic, then used the arrival of the pandemic as an excuse to remove the COLA language entirely–not just cutting it to 0%, but deleting the language itself. This would have created an incredibly difficult fight for us in two years when we reopen the contract, forcing us to fight to re-win language that was fought for a decade ago. We avoided that outcome and even guaranteed that COLA cuts will be phased out by the time a reopener can occur, freeing us to spend our energy fighting for new gains rather than countering losses in our next round of negotiations. Let’s examine OSU’s rhetoric though. Cutting the COLA of 1800 people saves the university less money than the salaries of Provost Ed Feser and President Ed Ray alone, who as a pair cost the university more than one million dollars plus benefits each year. Yet despite this deeply inequitable pay disparity, OSU administrators insisted we should be a part of the university’s “shared sacrifices”. We prevented or even reversed most of their efforts in this regard, but we will not forget what they tried, and we will take that memory into the coming year of direct actions and preparation for the next round of bargaining.
- Restrooms – All workers deserve access to safe, accessible, gender-affirming restrooms in their workplace. After all, everybody poops! Now, after years of fighting to include language on gender-neutral restrooms in our contract, we won a guarantee that all newly constructed or renovated buildings on campus will include at least one gender-neutral restroom. Since several buildings on campus still only have binary-gendered restrooms, we secured a commitment that OSU must by September 2022 generate a list of buildings to convert, and that at least five of these buildings will have dedicated-gender restrooms by September 2023. Lastly, we won language on gender-neutral locker rooms that will help protect our trans, nonbinary, and gender-nonconforming workers. With this new contract, gender-neutral locker rooms including those in Dixon Recreation Center and the Women’s Building must be designed to focus on the safety and privacy of users, cannot be conflated with staff locker rooms, and must be used for the sole purpose of a locker room.
- Nondiscrimination and Anti-bullying – We fought hard for language ensuring that graduate employees who require accommodations won’t be subjected to unnecessarily burdensome, discriminatory, and invasive medical documentation requirements. This is a huge win for the many graduate employees who need health or ability accommodations to perform their work safely, sustainably, or in some cases at all. We also secured stronger language for graduate employees who file a grievance for discrimination, harassment, or bullying. Such grievances will immediately be elevated to Step 3 of the grievance process (the Provost or their designee) and must be responded to within 15 days. Graduate employees who experience retaliation over a grievance will be able to file a new grievance over that retaliation. We also won language guaranteeing the University will use a graduate employee’s chosen name on all University controlled documentation – a provision that is especially important for graduate employees in the LGBTQIA+ community.
- Tuition Waiver – We secured language ensuring that our tuition waivers explicitly cover eCampus courses, that international workers can be reimbursed for SEVIS/visa fees and associated travel costs up to $500 for themselves and their dependents or spouses, and that Graduate Employees who pay to establish or maintain DACA status can be reimbursed up to $495. OSU admins like to talk about diversity and inclusion in their emails. Well, now we’ve made them put a bit of money where their mouth is.
- Family Leave and Policies – We had sought for OSU to expand their child drop-off hours to ensure graduate employees would have adequate childcare while they are working. OSU adamantly opposed this idea despite recommendations from their own 2017-2019 Children, Youth, and Family Committee that the University should expand childcare access on campus. We did however finally win three weeks of paid family leave for all graduate employees starting October 2020! This is a huge victory and marks the first time ever that graduate employees at OSU will have paid family leave, which will be quite literally life-changing for parents and children alike. Considering OSU’s discriminatory statements in recent bargaining sessions about how providing childcare will not help them attract “top talent,” this wonderful victory is another clear example of our power when we stand together in solidarity as a union.
- Letter of Agreement (LOA): Hardship Fund – We had sought for the University to make a commitment to contribute to our Union hardship fund, which has been funded by our member dues but now faces an uncertain future without investment from the University. Admin point-blank refused to put a penny into this fund that has helped their workers facing rent insecurity, healthcare expenses, food insecurity, childcare costs, and other emergency expenses. However, we did drive the University to agree to a LOA creating a $50,000 hardship fund housed within the Graduate School. This fund will focus on providing aid to graduate students, with at least 50% of funds specifically allocated toward graduate employees and input into fund distribution provided by members of CGE. This fund is not as expansive as the one we had sought, but is nevertheless a groundbreaking victory that will ensure graduate employees have a dedicated resource to access when they experience financial emergencies. In the future, we will push for higher University investment and more Union involvement in this fund.
- Summer Session – Employing units will now be encouraged to create and maintain lists of summer employment opportunities for grad workers. Graduate employees will now have the option to indicate interest in summer work at any point during the academic year and receive a “contingent summer offer” if their employing unit believes summer work will be available. If this offer is rescinded, graduate employees will be compensated for work already performed in preparation for this employment role, at an hourly rate consistent with a 0.30 FTE. This is a big step toward our fair compensation for all the valuable labor we perform for OSU.
- Insurance – Our insurance remains the same as it currently exists, with a 90% contribution from OSU. We will continue the fight for 95% coverage (as other workers on campus have) in the future, when OSU cannot hide behind the pandemic as an excuse to enforce austerity measures on some of its lowest-paid workers.
- Recognition – This article outlines who is included in the bargaining unit and what the minimum FTE appointment is. Those who are appointed the minimum FTE (currently .30) will see a major boost in their monthly income in September 2021, when the minimum FTE will increase to .35 FTE, and again in September 2022, when it will increase to .38 FTE.
Late into the strenuous negotiation session, in the early hours of Thursday morning, OSU tried to destroy our union. They passed us a package counter that would have increased the number of years between bargaining sessions, in exchange for modest improvements to some of the proposals outlined above. While this could have provided minor financial benefit to all current grad employees, this offer was a Trojan horse aimed directly at a key source of our power: the ability to bargain a full contract every four years with a partial reopener every two. This arrangement was decided on by CGE in its early years because of its strength as a long-term strategy for maintaining the institutional knowledge of the union amid a constantly rotating membership. OSU knows this, we know it, and each of us knows the other knows it. You know? Thus, for our bargaining team, accepting this deal was out of the question. Our contract is one of the strongest grad-employee contracts in the country. That didn’t happen after a single bargaining year. It came from 20 years of CGE members bargaining and fighting for progress and institutional tools for those who would come after them. We intended to keep that flame of the future burning, and we did.
Initial proposals by CGE’s bargaining team imagined an OSU with just policies towards the graduate employees who contribute a significant share of the labor to make OSU the academic institution it is. The gains which were the final result of this year’s bargaining are small in comparison with that initial vision. When taken in context of the entire process though, continued progress amidst what will undoubtedly be one of the worst years in higher education is a monumental victory. As pay cuts and layoffs plague colleges and universities amidst the worst economic depression since the Great Depression, this contract will help ensure our members will have the resources they need to make it through these challenging times while genuinely increasing equity at this University in groundbreaking ways. The language we won on paid family leave, hardship fund, gender-neutral restroom and locker-room access, DACA fee coverage, certain international student travel reimbursements, anti-discrimination training for grad-worker supervisors, and language on housing are completely new to the contract. These are victories that open doors for our most vulnerable members, which makes the entire union and thus every one of us stronger. Every single one of these victories is also not an end in itself, but a starting point from which to continue transforming this University into a systemically just environment accessible to all bodies and minds.
We will continue to bargain and fight for all OSU graduate workers. We fight for parents, for students of color, for international students, for our LGBTQIA+ community, for those with abilities that are mismatched to rigid institutional environments, and for all those who experience marginalizations large and small in their daily lives at this institution. We do this because all of you diverse and brilliant human beings are CGE and our strength comes from you. If you are not strong, the union is not strong. We will continue fighting for graduate employees until OSU is the just, equitable institution its admins theorize about in emails but which our members actually deserve and know we can get. After all, OSU works because we do!
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 NEW! organizer, Sarah Piscioneri 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: