GTFF Graduate Workers to Request Mediation in Negotiations with UO

Graduate Teaching Fellows Federation #press release

EUGENE: The bargaining team of the Graduate Teaching Fellows Federation (GTFF - AFT Local 3544) has announced plans to request state mediation following yesterday’s bargaining session with the University of Oregon. The groups have been in contract negotiations since March 2023, yet a tentative agreement between the two parties is far from being reached. GTFF’s bargaining team hopes that mediation will spur progress and move the parties toward a tentative agreement.

GTFF and UO have been holding biweekly bargaining sessions since March, but little headway has been made toward agreeing to major points on the union’s bargaining platform. The GTFF’s last contract was ratified in 2019, and rapid inflation in the years since has left graduate workers unable to meet the cost-of-living in Eugene. In addition to their demand for salary increases, the GTFF team has put forward proposals that would ensure additional resources for caregivers and international students, as well as protections against discrimination in the workplace. GTFF has also proposed an Equitable Housing Letter of Agreement to create accountability for UO’s role as a major property developer contributing to the rising cost of local housing.

The previous bargaining session on August 3rd saw an audience of over 65 graduate workers walk out in protest of the UO’s salary proposal that would leave all graduate workers well below a living wage. The counteroffer from UO’s team proposed 4 percent increases to the minimum salary and 2 percent increases to those above the minimum. Even for graduate workers completing the maximum amount of hourly work, this offer translates to a mere $76, $86, and $91 increase per pay period for respective salary tiers in year one of the contract.

“We want to move forward and make progress. Our union is bargaining in good faith with the UO, but we need to get our members’ needs met,” said co-lead negotiator Emalydia Flenory. “We hope the UO responds to the considerable movement we made on salaries today with some more realistic offers than their previous proposals.”

UO’s team held the GTFF’s salary proposal for 75 days before making their latest counteroffer at the August 3rd session, following graduate worker testimonies on the indignities they face due to low wages. As co-lead negotiator Cy Abbott explained, “there is a legal timeline we are following. Our teams lost valuable time to negotiate while the UO held onto our salary proposal.”

Despite their low wage offers, UO’s bargaining team has claimed they want to invest primarily in GE salaries, and therefore are not willing to put money into the articles on caregivers and international graduate workers. Their lack of engagement with these articles has slowed negotiations, as the GTFF has been unable to make progress in ensuring necessary resources and protections for some of their most financially burdened members.

“We haven’t been making the progress we want to see and we need the UO to take our demands seriously,” said Flenory. “We believe a state mediator will see the value in our proposals and research.”

As one of the oldest graduate employee unions in the U.S., GTFF represents over 1,400 graduate employees engaged in teaching and research work at the UO. Graduate employees perform necessary work to keep the UO functioning, teaching undergraduate students, grading their coursework, and supporting them through their programs.