We held our first bargaining session yesterday on our home turf, the Westminster House. Though we have been preparing for these negotiations for a long time, this the first real taste of bargaining for many of us on the team, including myself, and I must say that this first round was an educational experience, to say the least.

In particular, I, the rest of the bargaining team, and all the observers present learned one very important fact: the University Administration truly has no vision beyond the status quo about what life and employment should be like for its Graduate Employees. To me, that comes as somewhat of a surprise because every time we talk to the Administration, we and they agree that to transform OSU into a top tier institution, which is one of the Administration’s stated goals, we have to be able to attract the best and the brightest graduate students to drive the research that goes on here. To be able to do so, it seems obvious that OSU must offer a package to its Graduate Employees that at least compares with ones offered by other top tier schools. In a recent meeting CGE President John Osborne, CGE VP Bargaining Joe Tyburczy, and I discussed this very topic at length with the top levels of the University Administration, including President Ed Ray, Provost and Executive Vice President Sabah Randawa, Vice President for Finance and Administration Mark McCambridge, and Director of Human Resources Jacque Rudolph.

When it comes right down to it, though, the Administration makes it clear that, while it’s nice to talk about improving the lives of OSU’s Graduate Employees, it has no real plans to actually do so. Their approach to bargaining with us makes this fact quite obvious and, in fact, might be taken as suggesting that the Administration thinks our lives are too good already.

Here’s what I mean. Right off the bat, the CGE and Administration bargaining teams exchanged lists of the contract articles each party plans to open during negotiations, and one thing really jumped off of the list they handed to us: the Administration plans to abolish the Letter of Agreement that provides a $250-per-term fee differential to all Graduate Employees.

That this seems to be just about all the change they are looking for became clear after the exchange of these lists, when we began to go through the contract article by article to discuss what changes each team will be proposing during negotiations. By the end of the meeting, we had gotten through the first nine articles of the contract, and, so far, in each article the Administration plans to open, they are proposing only “housekeeping” changes, such as updating the term of agreement from 2004-2008 to 2008-2012, and changing a few dates to better coincide with payroll cycles.

That means that, based on what the Administration has shown us so far, their vision of how life should be for OSU’s Grad Employees involves either maintaining the status quo, or maybe even taking a step backwards.

Conversely, CGE has a clear vision of how life for OSU’s Grad Employees should be improved, and we are using these negotiations to work towards that vision. In the first nine articles that were discussed at the meeting, we proposed several changes representing progress, including:

  • Expand Article 2 – Recognition so that more Grad Employees are included in the CGE bargaining unit, hence expanding the number of people we legally represent. Also, clarify correspondence from the University informing students of their bargaining unit status (i.e. those confusing emails to your ONID account).
  • Modify Article 8, Section 9 to give CGE representatives time to explain the CGE-OSU contract to all incoming Grad Employees so everyone begins employment knowing their rights and benefits.
  • Modify Article 8, Section 11 to provide CGE with more timely and complete information about Grad Employees (e.g. department, campus mailing address, and total FTE) to help us improve our representation.
  • Expand Article 8 – Union Rights to provide Fair Share to help ensure CGE’s future well-being.
  • Expand Article 9 – Appointments to ensure that all Grad Employees receive their letters of appointment well enough in advance to ensure that there are no problems with late pay or failed tuition remission, and provide a month’s pay at 0.49 FTE if the offer letter is not provided in a timely manner.

To the articles that remain to be discussed, we will also propose improvements, including total fee remission, summer health coverage and partial spouse and dependent coverage, salaries that at least keep pace with inflation (which they don’t right now, since they don’t move at all), and provisions for child care assistance and emergency leave. These however, are issues for another day and another blog entry.

So what’s the take-home message here? Well, I’d say it goes something like this: If you hate giving your entire paycheck back to the University every first month of every term to cover the cost of student fees, if you think band-aids and vitamin C constitute a very poor summer health care plan, if you think its unfair that ever year your effective salary goes down a little bit because of inflation, in short, if you think there is anything that could be improved about your working conditions, don’t look to the University Administration to make the change on their own. The Administration’s vision goes no further than the status quo. If you want change, then, during these negotiations, support CGE, who really does have a vision of how to improve life for OSU’s Grad Employees.

I’m anxious to see what other proposals the Administration will make. They are planning to open Articles 11 (Salary), 18 (Grievance Procedure), 19 (Consultation), and 20 (Election Days). We are planning to open Articles 10 (Work Assignment), 11, 12 (Tuition Waiver), 17 (Discipline and Discharge), 18, 22 (Parking), 23 (Expenses), 24 (Non-Discrimination), and 27 (Statutory Compliance), and, in addition, we are proposing new articles on Health Insurance, Child Care, and Emergency Leave. It should be interesting to see how all of this plays out.

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On another note, thanks to all the observers who came out to this meeting. It was great to see that there are folks who are interested in the outcome of these negotiations. Hopefully we’ll see even more of you at the next round of bargaining.