One thing has become abundantly clear after 10 months of negotiations for a new contract for UO graduate employees (GEs): The University of Oregon administration simply does not care about graduate employees or other workers on campus. By failing to value graduate employees, who taught 17 percent of lectures, 83 percent of labs, and 93 percent of discussion sections in 2018-19, the university has demonstrated its disregard for undergraduate student education. After all, GE working conditions are student learning conditions.
Throughout negotiations, the Graduate Teaching Fellows Federation (GTFF), which represents over 1,400 graduate employees at UO, has bargained in good faith while striving to move toward a living wage, to maintain coverage of health insurance costs, and to achieve gains in terms of summer funding, support for international students, parental leave, and childcare subsidies. While GTFF has made strides in terms of provisions for paid training, greater inclusion for GEs from marginalized backgrounds, paid parental leave, and workplace bullying and harassment, the university has refused to offer a wage increase that even keeps up with the rising cost of living and has remained hell bent on restructuring GE health care.
The administration’s proposal would force graduate employees and their families to bear a severe cost burden – as much as $2 million over a three-year period. This would certainly lead to reduced benefits and increased premium costs, which GEs simply cannot afford. The university views GE health insurance as excessive and has falsely assumed the role of arbiter in determining a minimum, adequate level of health care that they believe is appropriate for grad employees and their family members.What the university administration considers to be “too rich” is simply affordable health care with benefits that members and their families need and use. Grad employees rely on their health insurance to continue contributing to UO as employees and students, but now we have to fight just to hold on to the hard-won level of coverage secured by GTFF.
Grad employees understand that GTFF is the only thing standing between them and the imposition of an effective pay cut and reduced health care by the university admin. To win a fair contract that GEs deserve, though, GTFF will have to mobilize its members and will also need substantial support from students, staff, faculty, and the broader Eugene community. By standing together in solidarity, we can win better conditions and fair contracts for graduate employees as well as classified staff represented by SEIU Local 085. Crucially, we can also work toward transforming the university into a more democratic institution in which decision-making is not concentrated at the top among administrators making six-figure salaries and oriented around private benefit, but rather shared among constituents on campus and motivated by a commitment to the common good