University of Oregon graduate teaching fellows (GTFs) put up strike picket lines Dec. 2, the week before final exams.
It’s the first-ever strike for the Graduate Teaching Fellows Federation (GTFF), founded in 1976. The union’s 1,500 members are graduate students who teach classes and run discussion groups and lab sessions. One-third of UO courses are taught by GTFs.
The union — also known as Local 3544 of American Federation of Teachers — has been in contract negotiations since November 2013. Its previous contract expired in March.
The dispute centers on wages and UO’s refusal to add paid medical and parental leave to the union contract.
GTFs work a maximum of half-time (219 hours per academic quarter) for a minimum pay of $4,090 per quarter ($4,619 with a masters, and $4,878 for doctoral candidates.) Local 3544 is proposing two annual raises of 5.5 percent; UO is proposing raises of 5 and 4 percent. The difference would be $220,000 over the life of the contract, Local 3544 estimates — at a University that just gave outgoing president UO President Michael Gottfredson $940,000 in “severance.”
The other issue is paid medical and parental leave. GTFs currently have 12 weeks of unpaid leave for the birth of a child or serious medical condition. The union proposed to make two weeks of that paid, and estimated it would cost UO $52,000 a year. UO proposed an alternative — a $150,000 hardship fund that any grad student could tap for $1,000 or $1,500 in the case of illness or the birth of a child. Local 3544 agreed to that, but UO refused to specify in the contract how the hardship fund would operate. Ironically, UO Interim President Scott Coltrane is a sociologist who has appeared on NPR and in the Atlantic Monthly for his academic research on paid paternity leave.
Making matters worse, Local 3544 vice president Richard Wagner says the union’s volunteer-led bargainers have had to contend with sarcasm and disrespect from UO’s $300-an-hour private attorney during negotiations. The attorney, Jeffery Matthews, is with the Harrang Long Gary Rudnick firm, which employs former UO president Dave Frohnmayer.