It’s a contract language bonanza!  This Friday’s bargaining session focused on the health insurance contract language we proposed earlier (Article 28), and also introduced some new contract language for salary (Article 11), and Parking (Article 22).

First, we talked about the proposed health insurance language. Admin reiterated our shared interest in automatic enrollment of grad employees, but other than that we got little in terms of feedback. Here’s a recap of a few items from CGE’s proposal on Article 28:

  • OSU covers 95% of health insurance premiums for graduate employees/family.
  • OSU covers 100% of premiums for graduate employees/family who qualify for Oregon Health Plan (OHP)
  • OSU will automatically enroll eligible graduate employees, and automatically re-enroll eligible graduate employees to maintain consistent coverage.

We also proposed a gap term coverage addition, where a graduate employee could elect to use a quarter of pre-paid health insurance during the academic year, rather than during summer term only.

Admin delivered some good news today as well. They have been researching something called “blending”, where the health insurance rates paid by individual departments or grants are the same for single graduate employees as they are for grads with families. This blending hides the higher cost of insurance for families by spreading it out evenly to create a single flat rate cost for departments. The new rate is only marginally higher for graduate employees without families/dependents, and substantially lower for employees with families. This is a great step toward increasing accessibility of graduate school to more people; blending increases diversity by removing the incentive to employ only people that are single. Admin said they planned to implement the new blended rate starting in Fall of 2016.

We took a quick break to caucus before switching to salary. CGE provided the OSU Admin team with language for Article 11, but we made it clear that it was all still up for discussion. Here are some highlights:

  • Cost of living adjustment of 2.25% starting in 2017. This is in line with what SEIU negotiated with OSU recently, and reflects the rising costs of housing, food, and other necessities in Corvallis.
  • FTE minimum of 0.26 starting in 2017. With the scheduled 2016 increase to the base salary rate, this will bring all graduate employees to a level of compensation above the federal poverty limit. We want to increase the minimum FTE to 0.30 by 2021. Increasing slowly will allow departments time to adjust to new requirements while improving employment for our lowest paid members.

The Admin team raised a few questions during this discussion. They brought up the idea of creating an income cap above which COLAs would not be given again. Again, we restated our belief that no graduate employee is immune to inflation. Denying a COLA to some employees is equivalent to paying them less over time, as their purchasing power will decrease as their pay remains the same. Raising the FTE minimum provides a living wage to the lowest earners, while the COLA helps all graduate employees maintain their level of purchasing power.

We also heard that tired old chestnut, “you’re pricing yourselves out of the market”!  We think graduate employees are undervalued. Most of us work far more than 19.6 hours per week to teach, plan, grade, and do research at OSU. Moreover, in the 15 years CGE has been improving graduate employment at OSU, we’ve seen a marked increase in the number of graduate employees, not a decrease. What do you think?

CGE also proposed a pay raise associated with PhD candidacy in Article 11. The exact number is being discussed, but we feel a raise of this kind rewards graduate employees who achieve PhD candidacy, and will help retain valuable PhDs at OSU.

After another caucus, we addressed parking briefly. CGE would like to enact a pre-tax payroll deduction to pay for parking permits, spread out over two months. OSU expressed a shared interest, but wasn’t able to comment on feasibility or implementation.

Although Admin didn’t offer much in terms of feedback, we expect to hear more from them once we’ve laid out all of the financial details.  They have mentioned more than once the fact that they need to look at everything as a “whole package”. After Monday’s session, they’ll have enough to start giving us some constructive comments.  We expect written  counterproposals from Admin once we return from our Spring Break bargaining hiatus.

Monday, March 7th is our last bargaining session before we take a brief recess to hammer out our Spring schedules. We’ll be talking about child care, family tuition benefits, international student services, and more!

 

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