Portland State University administrators won’t fight against a union effort among 800 graduate student teaching and research assistants.
On Feb. 1, a union delegation called on PSU President Wim Wiewel to remain neutral and not spend university funds to delay or frustrate the union effort. Wiewel hasn’t responded directly, but on Feb. 5, university provost Sona K. Andrews sent a memo to faculty and staff who oversee graduate student employees, offering guidance on the union question.
“We acknowledge and respect their right to consider this important question without interference,” Andrews wrote. Oregon law changed in 2013, the memo says. “Now, PSU cannot take a position or proactively provide information to either encourage or discourage a union.” That means, so long as it’s not disruptive to University operations, graduate assistants can campaign at work on their own time during breaks and before and after shifts, in lobbies, coffee rooms, locker rooms, and public areas, may wear union insignia, and may use university email and bulletin boards.
Grad student teaching and research assistants are already unionized at University of Oregon and Oregon State University. Now they seek to unionize at PSU as well in a joint campaign backed by American Federation of Teachers and American Association of University Professors. The workers are graduate students who teach courses, conduct research, provide administrative support, mentor students and grade exams.
Graduate Employees Union of Portland State University is still in the preliminary phase of the campaign but expect to seek formal union recognition later this year.
2/10/16 UPDATE: In an email, PSU Director of Communications Scott Gallagher said if President Wiewel didn’t respond directly to students, it wasn’t for lack of trying. “When the students came to the President’s office he met them in the lobby, listened to them speak, and tried to respond that, indeed, he and administration would be neutral as required by law,” Gallagher wrote. “However, the students and supporters left and wouldn’t let him respond.”