By Stefan Ostrach, Special Correspondent
EUGENE — Surrounded by more than 100 union members and supporters, the University of Oregon’s management negotiating team on Nov. 22 received a comprehensive proposal from the Graduate Teaching Fellows Federation (GTFF) Local 3544. The GTFF, an affiliate of the American Federation of Teachers, represents more than 1,500 graduate student teachers and researchers at UO. Members teach a third of the classes at the college. Bargaining is being held in open session, though management and union caucuses are closed.
GTFF organizer Amber Cooper presented the union’s proposals for improvements in working conditions, health care, and economics. The union wants basic kitchen appliances and wireless internet available in all work areas, paid parental leave, expanded protection against discrimination, job security, getting paid on payday, major dental and improved vision coverage, compensation for student fees, and wage increases.
Cooper stressed that good family health insurance, which is provided through a union trust, is a big draw for graduate students considering coming to UO, but lack of coverage for major dental work like crowns and fillings is a serious gap in that coverage.
Explaining the GTFF’s opening proposal for a 6.1 percent wage increase, Cooper cited an estimate by the university’s own financial aid office that $1,620 a month was needed, Cooper said, “We are only asking for salaries to cover at least basic costs of living as a graduate student in Eugene.”
Pay for a typical teaching fellow, she said, is $960 per month.
UO said it will respond with a proposal of its own at the next session scheduled for Dec.13.
GTFF was first organized in 1976, making it one of the earliest unions of graduate student employees in the U.S.
Other unions at the University of Oregon have all settled their contracts. They include faculty (United Academics, American Federation of Teachers, and American Association of University Professors); classified workers (Service Employees Local 503); and printers (Teamsters).