“UO’s Last Chance!” Rally and Averted Strike

Amaru Nephrite #labor #union

On January 11th, 2024 a troupe thick with signs and hoodies filled the EMU green as chants for a living wage emerged from the middle of the circle and radiated to the buildings. This was the final bargaining session for the Graduate Teaching Fellows Federation’s (GTFF) rising push to an equitable compensation for their vigorous work. The EMU green was strategically chosen to be in sight of the EMU room upstairs where GTFF’s bargaining team was currently negotiating the final expressions of GTFF’s proposed contract.

This final rally was a last chance for UO administration to propose a fair contract before a strike set to begin on January 17th. Due to unprecedented inflation, the stipend for UO graduate employees (GE’s) on average is merely 64% percent of Eugene’s living wage, despite many holding the equivalent of two full time jobs: undergraduate educators as well as graduate students, which highlights not only the failure of UO to recognize the value of GE’s work at this university, but also the failure of UO to respect GEs as workers at all.

After 10 months of pressure through #1 gathering membership and ally support, as a well as a looming threat of strike, UO finally provided a satisfactory contract, which for the course of 3 years will bring up the GEs’ salary to a $2500 per month minimum (and an average earning of about 90% of Eugene’s living wage), introduce anti-discrimination policies for trans and nonbinary GEs, as well as feature a new article specifically to address the needs of caregivers and international students to overall make graduate school more accessible to a broader range of people.

We interviewed Rosa, a vice president for GTFF communications and a strong member on the GTFF bargaining team, as we confirmed the contract agreed on is noted as being pretty damn good to most graduate employees! GTFF is currently in the ratification process of the new contract, as they are also impeccably informing members of GTFF at their general membership meetings of all it entails, with details. So one may ask, well what made the UO crack? Did someone new come in? Could admin not sleep after these persistent performances of unity lasered into their skulls that this is translucently callous decision making, and they should put their pride aside and perhaps their checks down a few bucks? Rosa answered with the truth, that there was a “sheer amount of passion, energy, and organization from (GTFF) members and allies” into the contract campaign.

From undergrad solidarity stretching to whole other campuses, there was nonstop paperwork, loops to twist backwards through, multitudinous hours waiting for UO responses, and countless cries of fury for justice, Rosa leaves us with wise words that hold nothing but the proven truth, that collective action works. It creates and hones leaders, igniting a fire that spreads through all involved as every little contribution was part of the big success. The GEs planted a seed last year and we now have a strong sapling growing to give us all a little shade from UOs burning exploiting rays.

Overall, the new contract is an incredible win for UO GEs, showcasing the power of collective action and unionization. Additionally, this win marks a long-awaited recognition of GEs as an integral part of the functioning of UO as an respectable educational institution. Without GEs, our own education (as undergraduates) would be subpar, as we would rely on people less qualified, less dedicated, and far less passionate to lead our sections, grade our assignments, and overall help us engage with and find value in our education. This recognition displays a culture shift at this university to indisputably classify GEs as the valuable employees they are at UO, and hopefully will pave the way for GEs in the future to fight for their rights in upcoming bargaining sessions.

What’s Next for GTFF?

With this win under their belt GTFF will now turn their attention to helping smaller unions in their upcoming bargaining sessions. Visit gtff3544.net/about/affiliations to learn more.