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Fellow teachers and researchers,
On Tuesday, 10 more GRAs testified before a judge about the work they do for OSU, which ranges from advancing computer vision technology to sequencing genomes to plotting atmospheric data on the Indian Ocean. It was clear from our testimony that GRA work assignments are diverse. Some grads use part of the data they collect as GRAs for a thesis or dissertation; some use none at all; and some won’t identify a thesis topic until working and studying at OSU for another year. However, none of the witnesses have the power to choose a completely independent research project and get paid with OSU funds to do it. Each GRA explained the ways their work helps faculty meet the objectives of OSU grant-funded research. Each is held responsible, by a faculty supervisor, for delivering results.
Our impression was that OSU didn’t gain much ground through cross-examination, which focused on inquiring into our witnesses’ future career plans. By linking GRAs’ research assignments to their personal interests and ambitions, OSU appears to be suggesting that anything we learn from isn’t work. Kevin Weitemier, a GRA from Botany and Plant Pathology, collects data for his assistantship that will not be used for his dissertation. He agreed his GRA experience could be useful to his future career in the same way that any relevant work experience is useful. Mindy Crandall of Forestry explained that because she intends to teach after completing her PhD, her TA experience (in the bargaining unit) has been at least as educational as her RA experience according to OSU’s criteria.
The judge admitted much more of CGE’s evidence into the record, including department handbooks explicitly calling GRAs employees and nearly identical appointment letters for represented and unrepresented Graduate Assistants. To the obvious chagrin of OSU’s team, the judge also accepted an Oregon University System policy document stating that “a bona fide employer-employee relationship” must exist between the university and any graduate student to whom it offers a tuition waiver.
To preclude the need for some of our testimony, OSU chose to formally agree with CGE on two significant statements. First, the university acknowledges that the State Board of Higher Education claims ownership over intellectual property created by all Graduate Assistants. Second, OSU acknowledges that the same positions CGE is seeking to represent are already included in employee collective bargaining at the University of Oregon. While they deny the relevance of that fact—claming OSU and OU labor relations are separate—CGE has shown that the same Oregon University System officials sign off on the contracts bargained at both universities.
Both sides will submit written briefs/closing arguments by June 28. The judge will take the facts of the case to the Employment Relations Board to rule on this question in the weeks that follow. We’re anxious to hear more, and we’ll keep you posted on significant developments. Stay connected with the most recent updates by joining our facebook page at https://www.facebook.com/groups/22020909238/
A special thanks to everyone who helped to legally demonstrate something obvious: we all do work that benefits our university.
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