June 4th was our last scheduled bargaining session for the year, and our team was hopeful we could come to an agreement on a fair contract. This did not happen. OSU management has already declined our proposals on eliminating summer enrollment requirements (see 1 below for more info), a reduction from 12 to 9 credit enrollment requirements to be on an appointment during the academic year, a hardship fund, expansions on gender-neutral restrooms, a provision to protect graduate employees from performing additional substitute work should faculty or staff ever go on strike, and offer letters translated into a language other than English for graduate employees who request this service. In our last session they have also attempted to reject all our proposals on child care.

 

Management has agreed to something of a middle-ground on DACA protections with a Letter of Agreement that states their commitment to supporting DACA recipients and publishing on the OSU website a resource packet created by a coalition of grassroots organizations and our parent union, AFT. Another compromise they offered was to increase the frequency of meetings for the Health Insurance Advisory Committee (HIAC), which CGE has a representative on and offers feedback on health insurance packages and costs. This can potentially improve our current experience with HIAC, which has not fulfilled its current responsibility to meet even once during this entire academic year.  

 

Management has agreed to extending VISA/SEVIS reimbursements to partners and/or dependents and increasing the total reimbursement amount. They have also agreed to a salary increase for those at the minimum salary standard, and a 2% cost of living adjustment for all returning graduate employees.

 

Some of these are victories, but our bargaining team has made it clear that we cannot sign any tentative agreement with OSU management until we receive some type of benefit for child care. We are also continuing to push for explicit language ensuring that all graduate employees have access to the health insurance services they need. Our reasons are due to the precedent set in the past year where needed medical services were being denied to our transgender graduate employee community. Finally, we have learned about multiple departments pushing costs onto PIs to cover summer credit enrollments over 3 credits for graduate employees. Though OSU is clearly not interested in eliminating summer credit enrollments, our bargaining team will pursue this topic and try to find the beginning of a solution to the matter.   

 

The current round of negotiations has revealed some crucial changes in the style and priorities of OSU management. 1) OSU management has become more aggressive and adversarial against unions on campus. This experience is not exclusive to CGE, but also to our classified workers in SEIU who have seen their relationship with OSU managers become more hostile over the past year. There are likely multiple factors explaining this change from OSU, including their knowledge of the imminent Janus v. AFSCME Supreme Court decision which they believe will weaken our unions and the addition of new higher-ups in the administration who may hope to capitalize on this change in labor law. Also, our faculty are unionizing which means for OSU management that they will now have to negotiate fair contracts for three categories of workers. This development is a beneficial one for CGE and other workers at OSU, but for management it is an encroachment on their authority to dictate the terms of wages, benefits, and work conditions. 2) OSU management is willing to concede some ground on wage increases, but they do not wish to tolerate or consider any proposals with the potential to influence administrative decisions. This means OSU understands its power is through bureaucracy, and they will guard this power aggressively.

 

CGE needs to recognize these changes and have a clear mind about the challenges to come. We would all prefer an amicable and reasonable relationship with management. In this round of negotiations, members of their team have not been respectful or reasonable. They opened our bargaining by stating they no longer wish to practice “interest-based bargaining” (a style of bargaining where both sides state their interests and try to find common ground) meaning they deliberately moved to a form of oppositional bargaining.

 

Our bargaining team will continue to push for a better contract, but we write this to notify membership that our future bargaining will require more member involvement, higher levels of campaigning, and a vocal union in collaboration with our union cousins at OSU to get the fair contracts we all deserve. We need to play a long game while trying to gain inches in the immediate short game. We are pleased with how many members of our union showed up to important bargaining sessions, pitched in on the petition, and voiced their support. But this level of engagement needs to increase. We do not win good contracts by making the best arguments at the negotiation table, we win at the table through our display of collective action and solidarity. Management is pushed when it is pressured by collective action, not by the rhetorical skills of a six-member bargaining team. The next round of bargaining is in 2 years, and we will be ready…

 

1) OSU has not been interested in bargaining further reductions in summer enrollment despite CGE’s efforts. Their reasoning has been that the funding they get from the state depends on the number of hours students are enrolled in, so they are unwilling to further decrease that amount. While CGE would love to see changes happen at the state level and will work towards this, that is not the only driving factor. The University of Oregon allows a “sandwich term” in which they can be given an assistantship without being enrolled. This will not affect the federal taxes that would be withheld, but reduces the cost to students and/or departments/PIs for a summer assistantship.