The CGE bargaining team met with OSU for what we thought might be the last time this past Tuesday, August 10th.  We were scheduled to present a package proposal. From communication we had received the previous session, we thought that the administration’s team might be ready to call for a state mediator to step in after this past session, even though the CGE team thought we were still making progress.  As it turned out, we have another session scheduled for 10:30 AM on August 23rd in the Memorial Union.

Now… what happened this past Tuesday?  In simple terms, we presented a proposal to their team (that can be found here), they objected, we talked for a bit, they caucused and then told us they were willing to meet one more time before mediation.

Our proposal is very simple compared to both our previous proposal and their last proposal (in no small part due to the fact that we dropped a request for half a million in new compensation towards health insurance premiums – which, by the way, would have still left us behind the grad employees at UO).  In addition to non-economic language we’ve basically agreed on, we proposed to increase the minimum stipend to what the graduate school recommends (found here) and to leave the $300/term in fee relief unchanged.  This would cut everyone’s fee bill by $100/term (except engineers, who would see an additional $430 in their pockets from the eliminated engineering resource fee), and would put an average of $100 more per month in post-tax stipend in the pocket of the average grad employee who currently makes less than our proposed minimum.

In short, it would end the egregious engineering fee, help everyone a little bit and those at the bottom a bit more.

In the long run, we hope to move more fees into tuition, as the differential is a very inefficient way to pay for fees.  However, the university has refused to waive enough in fees to make changing the differential an option for grads.

One of the university’s objections to increasing the minimum stipend was revealed a bit more when they told us both that some Deans don’t want the minimum stipend increased and that increasing it too far would make the pay rate for GTAs higher than that of instructors in the College of Liberal Arts. [Update 8/17/10:  We have been told by someone in the College of Liberal Arts that this is not true.]  Their team suggested there was a number between our proposed number ($3543/month at 1.0 FTE) and the current minimum ($2811/month at 1.0 FTE) that would work.  We hope their next proposal reflects that middle ground in some fashion, but so far comments made at one session by the university appear to have little bearing on their behavior during future sessions.

Check below the fold for a lot more of the back-and-forth of the session.

The real fun part of the session came in the conversation that dominated most of the 90 minutes:

  • One member of their team claimed the $300 isn’t for fees and that grads can spend it however we want.  This came after their lead negotiator admitted they had resisted talking about it in relation to fees for years, but that yes, it’s about fees – which it always has been.  Their team member then claimed we were arguing over semantics.
  • The same team member tried to tell us that the university’s proposal would result in a net gain for grads because OUS was rolling a few fees into tuition.  That the university is also proposing to cut fee relief from $300 to $120 – that $180 being more than the value of the fees that will be waived next year – did not seem to change his mind.  He stuck to claiming that the $300 isn’t about fees and suggested we shouldn’t think about it in those terms.
  • Their team also tried to claim that removing the engineering resource fee and making everyone else pay for it was what the union had always wanted.  In the same part of the conversation, their team suggested that the $300 – which everyone receives – was really about only the resource fee, not fees in general.  We’re not sure what union they were referring to, but it wasn’t CGE, since we’ve always wanted total fee relief (and why would we have pushed for $300 for everyone if it was really just about engineers?).  We’ve also argued that the engineering resource fee was a problem as long as it existed, so characterizing fixing the problem as generosity on the part of the university was a bit much to hear, especially since it was clear that if the OUS system didn’t do it, the Legislature was likely to.  The bit where management told us their proposal was what we have always wanted is straight out of some “how to negotiate with unions” workshop, and all the more transparent as a tactic for it.

To each point we responded that making the fee situation worse for everyone was not what we wanted and we didn’t think it was in the university’s interest.  We also pointed out that we have a vision for what the university could be like for graduate employees, and that the vast majority of what we hear from the university’s team is about the cost of employing grads, not about the value we add to the university or what their vision is for the future of graduate employment as OSU undergoes significant changes.  The bargaining team can’t decide if this is a function of their team being composed mostly of people who never work with graduate employees or a deliberate insult.  Either way suggests that their team needs more awareness of what grad employees actually do.

The university also tried to claim that since they think each department is free to spend money how they wish (a claim that will certainly send Department Chairs into spasms when they hear it, since we know Department Chairs’ budgets have so many strings attached they resemble marionettes), they hope each department will continue to provide raises outside the contract to their graduate employees.  As easy as it would have been to laugh, we responded by citing the case of Zoology, where the graduate employees there had to spend more than a year lobbying to get their first raise in at least six years, even with the support of the faculty and department as a whole.

The university’s response was to claim that the Dean of the College of Science “took care of it.” (This guts their argument, since the department was unable to give a raise on its own, but had to get the Dean to clear it.)  We know the Dean agreed to a one-time, not recurring, raise after it was pointed out to him that the pay equity issues in Zoology left the university open to legal repercussions.  We’re not faulting the Dean, but pointing out that even with good intent it can be very difficulty to change grad employee salaries at the department level.

On top of that case, we also know that departments – even well-meaning departments – that aren’t required to give raises often won’t give them.  Or, as we pointed out, graduate employees can’t eat hope.  We don’t bargain over hope.

Interestingly, that part of the conversation made it sound like the university wanted to go back to the days before collective bargaining, when there was no legally binding tuition waiver, no minimum salary, and no health insurance – and grads were forced to negotiate directly with their PIs and departments.  It’s almost like they don’t like having to actually commit to decent conditions for graduate employees.

Next, the university tried to claim that since new grads won’t know that previous grads got fee relief (remember, they are proposing to phase the differential out entirely), they won’t miss it.  We responded by pointing out that not only will that take a long time, as grads tend to talk to each other, but that having $300 less per term in income will be missed, period – and that the union would never willingly sell out new grads like that, and the bargaining team made it clear that even if we agreed to something like that, we knew the membership wouldn’t agree to it.  That the university intimated we’d be so selfish and shortsighted is insulting.

After that, the conversation turned to the engineering resource fee and the relative benefit and costs to engineers compared to everyone else.  We asked their team how the College of Engineering felt about OSU proposing to benefit engineers but cut everyone else’s pay, and their team suggested that the CoE was OK with that.  We are not entirely convinced that’s true.

They also brought up the fact that with the fee roll-in for engineers, PIs on grants have to account for $430 per term more in tuition waivers than they wrote the grants for.  We pointed out that the conversation about rolling fees into tuition has been happening for years, and that the university should have told anyone seeking grant money this was coming.  Given the conversations that have been happening in the Legislature, at the bargaining table, at the State Board of Higher Ed, within the Provosts’ Council, etc., the end of the fee was almost as predictable as the yearly tuition increase.

We also asked if the State Board of Higher Ed, who voted to roll the fees in to tuition, intended for OSU to attempt to get that money back from graduate employees or if they had accounted for that cost in their budgeting.  If it is the intent of the Board that rolling fees into tuition would be an increased benefit to graduate employees, then we’re curious if the Board knows that OSU is trying to get that money back in the form of decreased stipends.  If the Board intended for OSU to try and get that money back, it also stands to reason the Board needed to make that clear to CGE beforehand.  Since neither has happened, we are wondering if the university’s team is trying to play CGE against the Board on this one.  We’re working on getting in touch with the Board directly to find out what kind of decision-making process took place and what information was shared with whom and when.

After that, their team suggested they wanted to keep devolving authority over stipend decisions to departments.  We responded by pointing out that increasing stipends to cover more fees was incredibly inefficient, and that rolling them in to tuition was far more effective.  They responded by suggesting we need to talk to the student government, which does not actually address the problem at all.

At this point, the CGE lead negotiator asked their lead negotiator point-blank if they could afford our proposal.  They initially said, no, and he asked again.  This time, they said they had already provided us with an offer (which is not a no).  Our lead responded by telling them we need to see proof they can’t afford our proposal in the form of numbers.  They responded by saying it all depends on how departments spend their money (another non-answer) and that they are insisting their proposal is a net benefit to grad employees (which it isn’t – it’s a net gain for engineers and a net loss for everyone else).  Our lead then suggested he would send the university a formal information request to get that information if they did not want to hand it across the table voluntarily (under state law, any information that is germane to bargaining – especially how much proposals cost – is information that the employer is legally required to give to the union).  They responded that we should go that route if we wanted, but they weren’t going to voluntarily hand it over.

What’s interesting about that exchange is that under state law, refusing to justify or explain a proposal is often used as evidence that one side is bargaining in bad faith, which is a big no-no.

With a few more comments, after about an hour of back-and-forth, their team decided to caucus amongst themselves.  They came back and offered us one more bargaining session on August 23rd before they request mediation.  While the bargaining team has differing opinions on how that session will go, we’re all sure that having another session before mediation is a sign that the university wants to make a deal, which is a good thing.

Barring unforeseen events, then, the next session is the last time the two teams will be in the same room (there is an outside chance it will be the last session, period).  The bargaining team can’t stress this enough:  We need as many members as possible to be there.  You all have carried us a long ways, and it’s time for your presence to help us wrap this up on a good note.  August 23rd, 10:30 AM, Memorial Union (room TBA).  Please be there.