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Q&A: Inside the GTFF Strike

UPDATE: As of 12/10/2014, the University of Oregon and GTFF have reached an agreement and the strike is now over. 

Through the emails, our classes, and the protesters on campus, it’s hard to ignore the prominent GTFF strike currently occuring at our school. After being on campus for 38 years, this is the first GTFF strike in University of Oregon’s history. To find out the background on the issue and how it affects students, Her Campus Oregon talked to GTF Lidi Soto of the Media Studies program at the School of Journalism and Communication.

HCO: What are the current demands for the strike?

Lidi Soto: After a year of negotiations about work conditions, wages, and paid medical leave, the University of Oregon administration has failed to come to an agreement with the GTFF union. The last point of disagreement has to do with including the details of an emergency medical fund to be codified into the GTFF contract. We, members of the GTFF, have asked for paid leave and the administration responded by offering a 150K fund that will replace lost wages in case of emergency. We are asking for this to be put into our contract, along with a grievance process that would serve as a check to make sure we can address problems that arise with the fund. We are worried that if this isn’t written into the contract, it will not be enforceable. This is particularly important because the administration’s proposal only offers us one seat on the board that would oversee the fund, review applications, and have the power to accept or reject applications. This is also important because from our calculations, 150K would not cover the 3000 eligible people over the course of one year. What we want is a safety net for our most vulnerable colleagues. If we can’t get a guarantee that funds will be available to them if they apply in late spring because funds have dried up, then this proposal will not work for us.

HCO: Why is this necessary for the GTFs at UO?

LS: This is necessary for GTFs at the University of Oregon because our wages cannot afford to take a hit should we be in an accident or should we become ill. PhD candidates are investing 5-7 years at this institution and they are often at the age to become parents, so this also becomes an issue of gender equity, and equal access for women and parents. Not to mention the fact that working class students, and students of color have often been economically barred from preventative care and are often the most in need of these services. So, if the administration really does want to recruit more competitive, and underrepresented graduate students, this becomes really crucial.

Photo courtesy of Oregon Live

HCO: Which GTFs do these measures primarily affect?

LS: These measure affect GTFs that have the lowest wages, or work the least hours. GTF appointments are competitive, and they range from .2 FTE to .49 FTE which means that some GTFs may only be offered 8 hours of employment per week, and at most, they will be offered 19 hours of employment. This also affects parents, or aspiring parents. Again, this is a gender equity issue. We are told to “Dissertate before we procreate.” It is deeply offensive, and frankly, I’m surprised that this is even an issue in 2014. This also affects students that are in accidents or become ill. I’ve known colleagues who get hit by a car on their bikes and need extended time off. In my own department, we had a colleague who became chronically ill after her second year in the program. Again, this issue affects a broad range of people in all departments and disciplines.

HCO: How does meeting or not meeting these demands affect the students?

LS: We teach about ⅓ of the instructional hours at the University of Oregon. Most undergraduate students will be taught by GTFs throughout their time here. There are several things to point out about this. First, that our teaching conditions are their learning conditions. If we have sick instructors that can’t take time off, they are not functioning to their full capacity and this is a disservice to the undergraduates. Second, their tuition is not going to their instructors. Rather, it’s going to the administrators. The raises that administration has gotten in comparison to faculty or graduate students is shocking. In reality, the cost to fund and guarantee this program is very affordable to this institution. We know that the university is not holding out on this because they can’t afford this.

Photo by Sean Munger

HCO: How long has this mediation been going on? What is the background of this issue?

LS: Bargaining has been going on for over a year. We began bargaining last November. Mediation has been going on for about a month. It began after we declared an impasse. In the state of Oregon, when an impasse is declared, the state sends a mediator and requires a mandatory 30-day cooling off period before a strike can take place. We have been on strike for 5 days now, and will strike again tomorrow unless a contract is reached this evening.

HCO: Why hasn’t the university reached an agreement?

LS: We are unsure why the administration has failed to meet us in the middle. They have spent more money in legal fees for lawyers and for their administrators in the bargaining process. Emergency medical leave would cost about 52K to implement, and the legal fees they have spent already would have paid for this for two years. Further, our Interim President, Scott Coltrane, has spent the majority of his career researching the benefits of parental leave. He has said “that any costs associated with taking parental leave will be outweighed by potential gains.” He’s been cited in the NY Times, NPR, and had an article published by The Atlantic. We’re deeply disappointed that he he hasn’t taken this opportunity to put his research into practice.

http://www.theatlantic.com/business/archive/2013/12/the-risky-business-of-paternity-leave/282688/

Photo by The Daily Emerald

HCO: How can undergrads get involved?

LS: Undergraduates can sign this petition: http://petitions.moveon.org/aft/sign/university-of-oregon

They can call or email the Provost and Interim President, Frances Bronet and Scott Coltrane: 

fbronet@uoregon.edu and provost@uoregon.edu (541) 346-3186

coltrane@uoregon.edu and pres@uoregon.edu (541) 346-3036

They can donate or share the donation page (it’s the button on the top right):

http://gtff3544.net/

Finally, an undergraduate student at the University of Oregon posted this on her final paper as a way to stand in solidarity with striking GTFs:

“In light of ongoing labor negotiations at this institution, I would like to request that this paper not be graded by anyone that is hired to do the work of striking GTFs. If not alternatives are available, I will gladly accept an incomplete.”

It’s another example of something undergraduate students can do to support our strike.

Students with additional questions can check out: 

GTFF website with official updates

Photos and videos about why we’re striking!

GTFF public FB page with more frequent updates

UO faculty union strike FAQ

UO faculty members personal blog

Photo courtesy of the GTFF Twitter

Heather is a senior at the University of Oregon, majoring in advertising. An aspiring copywriter, her dream job would be screenwriting for TV, but for the meantime she works as an office assistant, ad director for Envision magazine, freelance graphic designer, and her favorite, campus correspondent at Her Campus Oregon. She hails from Lake Oswego, Oregon, and loves the quirky side of Oregon: its unique people, unpredictable weather, and amazing music scene. She's a cat lover, avid black coffee drinker, and TV and movie addict.
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