OSU graduate research assistants vote to unionize

A DEGREE IS TWO YEARS, BUT SOLIDARITY IS FOREVER: In a Salem parking lot outside the office of the Oregon Employment Relations Board, Oregon State University graduate assistants celebrate, joining hands to sing “Solidarity Forever.” Graduate research assistants voted by a 9-to-1 margin to join American Federation of Teachers. Photo by Matt Loewen.

Graduate research assistants at Oregon State University have won union representation. Overcoming administrative opposition and legal obstacles, they voted 287 to 32 to join American Federation of Teachers (AFT) in ballots counted March 8.

The 781-member group joins an existing bargaining unit of about 900 graduate teaching assistants, known as AFT Local 6069.

The research assistants are graduate students who get full scholarships and a stipend in exchange for helping faculty conduct research. Last year, they turned in union authorization cards signed by nearly 500 graduate research assistants, but the OSU administration argued that they’re students, not public employees. The Oregon Employment Relations Board disagreed, and scheduled an election.

Local 6069 President Wren Keturi said the union hopes to soon start negotiating additions to Local 6069’s contract, which runs through mid-2016.

The research assistants are likely to seek cost-of-living increases and protected leave, Keturi said; teaching assistants are allowed to take time off during winter, spring and summer breaks, but research assistants don’t currently have that right.

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