The Graduate Teach Fellows Federation (GTFF), the union that represents graduate employees at the University of Oregon has been bargaining for a new contract for about a year. For much of this year GTFF bargained alongside their union cousins at SEIU 503, participating in joint actions. Classified workers of SEIU secured an agreement from management just two days before they were set to go on strike. Leaving GTFF as the only union at the university in bargaining. Like SEIU, GTFF is hoping the administration will come to the table with a fair deal in the last minute before a strike.
Near the end of Spring term of this year, GTFF entered mediation, where instead of bargaining directly with the administration a state mediator sits in between them or relays ideas back and forth. A decision made by the administration, seeing they were not getting anywhere at the bargaining table before. After ten mediation sessions, GTFF declared impasse, a step that made it possible for the union to strike. Fast forward to Fall term and the administration made some concessions, but they were still apart when it comes to wages and healthcare. That is why the GTFF declared their intent to strike on November 4.
The GTFF has long had an independent health insurance system, where the administration can only bargain for how much they contribute to the GTFF healthcare trust. Right now the administration contributes 95% to all health insurance costs to the trust, and members have to pick up just 5% of costs. Many GEs see the health insurance a prize of the union that keeps them at the UO for their graduate career. For much of bargaining the administration was insistent on making cuts to GEs healthcare.
Rachel Hampton, a third year PhD student and graduate employee at the University of Oregon, saw the benefits of the GTFF health insurance first hand when she had a medical emergency four months into her graduate career. When she came to the university she didn’t think much about the healthcare benefits, being young and athletic. Rachel’s health started to deteriorate and had to receive healthcare from what she learned was a spinal disease. GTFF’s health insurance not only picked up the cost of her surgery, but care and prescriptions after, something that would put many others in bankruptcy.
While the administration can not change the structure to the health insurance, they said they wanted to reduce the money they provide for health insurance over the next few years. The GTFF has stood firm in saying they will not accept cuts to healthcare.
In the middle of October, not seeing adequate progress, 1,0444 GTFF members voted to authorize a strike. Which is 95% of voters and over 86% of membership took part in voting. The GTFF announced the vote results at a rally on November 18 grabbing the attention of many undergraduates present at the Street Faire that was also happening.
The following Thursday GTFF held an informational picket with about 50 members out, to show the university what a strike could look like. Later that day the union officially filed their intent to strike on Tuesday, November 4. The following day after GTFF declared intent to strike the UO management bargaining team backed off making cuts to health insurance. Both sides of the bargaining table described that mediation session as the “most productive meeting” of bargaining, in a joint statement. The GTFF still has outstanding economic asks as of this writing: 3% raises for each of the three years of the contract for the lowest paid GEs and full visa reimbursement for its international GEs.
GTFF hopes they have averted a strike with this breakthrough and is able to get the administration to meet them on the outstanding bargaining issues. The two sides meet again for a mediation session on Tuesday. The strike threat is still on the table and if the GTFF does not get a fair contract before November 4, they will go on strike.
There will be a Ready to Strike Rally on November 1st at noon in front of Johnson Hall.
by Matthew Osborn-Grosso. Matthew Osborn-Grosso is a community organizer and writes a weekly newsletter with a
focus on labor that can be found at solidarity.substack.com.