GTFF Resists UO Admin to Secure Contract and Readies for Broader Struggle

After a yearlong contract fight, the Graduate Teaching Fellows Federation reached an agreement with the University of Oregon administration. The contract was ratified in a vote in which 73 percent of GTFF members participated and 93 percent voted in favor of ratification

In attaining a new contract, GTFF members successfully resisted a severe attack by UO admin on graduate employee health care, which offers excellent and affordable coverage. Throughout negotiations, UO admin insisted on drastic cuts that would have led to increased premiums and reduced benefits for members.

GTFF also achieved 3 percent increases for minimum salaries and at least 1.4 percent raises across the board. Several other gains were made, including 6 hours of paid training; 6 weeks of paid parental leave; $700 in yearly child care assistance for children up to the age of 7; greater involvement for graduate employees in curriculum development; protections for international graduate employees from Immigration and Customs Enforcement; and provisions to safeguard GEs from workplace bullying and harassment.

These gains were achieved through an effective escalation campaign that focused on a credible strike threat demonstrated through a massive 95 percent strike authorization vote among GTFF members. The campaign involved on-campus solidarity with undergraduate students and unionized staff and faculty, which was bolstered by external pressure from local unions, community organizations, and city, county, and state political figures.

By backing off cuts to health care and agreeing to key provisions advocated for by GTFF, UO admin avoided a strike that would have made it even clearer that they are isolated in their effort to corporatize the university and impose budget austerity for everyone but themselves.

The broader struggle, however, is far from over. During negotiations, UO admin demonstrated its profound disrespect, devaluation, disregard for graduate employee lives, and especially for international GEs. UO admin repeatedly engaged in bad faith negotiation and their manipulative and discriminatory agenda sought to undercut union members.

At the last stage, UO admin proposed the possibility of reimbursing visa fees only for international graduate employees who could demonstrate financial need, but made this offer contingent upon GTFF agreeing to fundamentally restructure the negotiation process in favor of management for the next bargaining cycle. They wanted to move toward identifying shared interests rather than exchanging proposals and counterproposals.

To be absolutely clear, GTFF members don’t have shared interests with UO admin. The articulation of UO admin’s interests is directly harmful to graduate employees and other university constituents, especially those who are underrepresented and marginalized.

Deeply informed by this experience, GTFF members are committed to continuing the fight through a campaign for international graduate employees, who face precarious conditions related to the racist U.S. immigration regime and discriminatory university policies.

The contract represents one terrain of struggle, yet there are many others both on campus and beyond. Guided by an expansive vision of university democracy rooted in educational and economic justice, GTFF members are ready to work with allies to transform the university into one that actually works for all of us and puts people before profit.

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