The Coalition of Graduate Employees at Oregon State University held their third bargaining session with university management at the Westminster House on Friday, Nov. 15, from 2-5 p.m. They have currently submitted 18 proposals, including a 6% pay increase for all workers, an independent review process for investigation of discrimination, and a plan to implement affordable housing for graduate-student employees, many of whom teach or do research.
During the negotiation session, a paper banner was displayed against a wall of the Westminster House with the slogan, “Give us an E.D. R.A.I.S.E.,” an acronym in reference to Ray’s 6% increase in salary last year. Each letter of the acronym stands for a demand of the union: “Enhanced benefits, daycare, restrooms, affordable housing, international employee support, summer support, and equitable workload and treatment.”
Three primary demands that CGE brought to the third negotiation session were increased pay and benefits, a more effective process for protection against discrimination, and greater transparency in the negotiation process via livestreaming.
The bargaining team was composed of 20 graduate students, and 101 people from the community signed in as spectators to watch the negotiations.
The first bargaining session of this year was held on Oct. 24, and the second on Nov. 5. The recent round of bargaining sessions are being held due to the four-year cycle of contract renewal, with the negotiations determining the rights and benefits of graduate employees for the upcoming cycle. Signed in September, 2016, the current contract will expire on Jun. 30, 2020.
The current contract outlines the rights and benefits of graduate employees, including conditions required for planned salary increases.
During the third negotiation session, OSU was represented by Heather Horn, assistant provost for Academic Employee and Labor Relations, Steph Bernell, associate dean of the graduate school, Linda Nye, human resources officer, and Eric Kirby, associate dean for Academic Programs.
Requests for comments from Horn, Bernell, Nye and Kirby were directed to Steve Clark, vice president of University Relations and Marketing.
CGE has stated that they hope to strengthen existing rights and guarantee job security and protections for the upcoming cycle.
“Rather than coming prepared to engage meaningfully with us on proposals, they came in aggressively and condescendingly. This has continued with Provost Feser’s attempts to circumvent the bargaining process and simply tell us what our wages and benefits will be. I personally am very tired of being disrespected and condescended to,” said Samuel Burns, a graduate employee who teaches and conducts research in the Department of Anthropology, and teaches via Ecampus.
Requests for statements from OSU President Ed Ray, and Provost and Executive Vice President Edward Feser were directed to Clark.
Speaking on behalf of the university, Clark said via email that he believes allegations that leadership has attempted to circumvent the bargaining process are untrue. “CGE and the university already have a current labor agreement that establishes wages, benefits and other workplace matters for graduate teaching and graduate research assistants working at OSU. University leaders have not commented publicly on the existing contract or ongoing bargaining between CGE and the university for the next contract,” Clark said via email.
The most recent bargaining session included testimonies by graduate employees advocating for the necessity of more explicit protections against discrimination and higher salaries. CGE member Nathan Waugh says they feel that the current management model has increased the need for organized labor.
Waugh, graduate fellow and Ph.D candidate in biochemistry, said, “I think there’s always been a need for a union, but it’s become a lot stronger lately for multiple reasons. One is that a few years back OSU transitioned into the ‘responsibility-centered management model’, and what this model does is essentially treats colleges and other academic units within the university as competing businesses. So it’s taking a hyper-capitalistic management approach to an institution that by its nature is supposed to be socially funded, socially equitable.”
Waugh said they feel that the new management model has had a direct effect on graduate employees.
“We’re losing [teaching assistant] positions because of this responsibility centered management model, we’re losing [research assistant] positions, we’re just getting a lot more precarious in our standard of living because of it,” Waugh said.
On the current state of negotiations, Waugh said they have concerns.
“The fact that OSU’s administration is trying to spend hundreds of millions of dollars on things like stadium renovations while simultaneously claiming that there is not enough money to fund living wages and healthcare for their faculty and graduate employees is absurd. The university does not run or work, period, without faculty and graduate employees,” Waugh said.
In an email, Clark said he feels that the continued bargaining sessions will be mindful of student tuition.
“Our negotiations with CGE always will be mindful of the tuition burden that students and their families bear in an era of a declining percentage of state support for higher education and an era of much higher employee benefit costs,” Clark said.
Further, Waugh said that they feel that the 2016 election of Donald Trump has had an effect on contract negotiations, due to concerns that the current presidential administration is rolling back federal protections for minority groups.
“For OSU to be removing tangible employment and student protections from its employee and student populations at the same time that the federal government is doing the same thing is just a deep assault on everyone here, and that, I think, really drives the need for a union. The only defense we have against that is our numbers, we are a large amount of people who are being attacked, and we have to stand together in opposition to that,” Waugh said.
Waugh listed the decrease in paid graduate assistant positions and the removal of discounted meals for classified workers as examples of tangible policies that have negatively affected workers at OSU.
Public transparency during bargaining session has also been a point of discussion between CGE leadership and OSU.
The bargaining teams representing both CGE and the university have agreed to ground rules that allow members of the university community and the public to attend the twice monthly bargaining sessions, according to an email from Clark.
Additionally, the university and CGE both provide regular updates of bargaining sessions on web pages managed by both parties.
“The university believes that the mutually agreed upon ground rules, including open attendance to observe the bargaining sessions, as well as the regular website updates, provide for an open, accessible and fully up-to-date and well communicated process,” Clark said over email.
While university leadership feels that the current transparency measures are sufficient, members of CGE have been advocating for public livestreams to increase accessibility.
OSU leadership has vetoed requests to livestream the bargaining sessions, which members of CGE say they feel is unfair, and is an illegal violation of graduate employees’ rights to bargain, as outlined in Section 7 of the National Labor Relations Act.
Sarah Erickson, sixth-year Ph.D student in mathematics at Oregon State, said, “We continue to be disappointed that OSU is choosing to discriminate against graduate employees by refusing to livestream. This excludes graduate employees who live outside Corvallis, graduate employees that have children to care for, and graduate employees who have disabilities or are unable to attend the sessions in person for other reasons. OSU grad employees deserve better and they deserve to have a fair opportunity to be involved in the negotiating of their contract.”
Burns is another member of CGE who is affected by the no-livestream policy.
Burns wrote in a statement, “I wish that I didn’t have an opposition. I’m here to conduct quality research and provide excellent teaching, and I would like to think that the administration is here to give me the support I need to do that. Sadly, I’m rapidly losing faith that this administration shares my goals.” Burns continued, “Our members are already stretched thin with teaching, research, coursework, and professional development demands, not to mention trying to balance family and personal life, but hundreds of us have invested an enormous amount of our time and effort into this. Over 200 people attended our first bargaining session. We care about this, because we care about our teaching and research.”
The next bargaining session will be held from 2-5 p.m. at the Westminster House on Dec. 6 and is open to the public.
“We believe it is important that such an agreement recognize the valuable contributions that graduate assistants provide to OSU and to the university’s mission of education, research, and outreach and engagement. We seek to achieve an updated contract that helps recruit and retain excellent graduate assistants,” Clark said via email.