From the Department of You Can’t Make This Shit Up…
Grad students at the University of Oregon are about to go out on strike.
Last year, we talked here about how the faculty at the University of Oregon were trying to negotiate a fair contract with the administration. You’ll recall that the administration wasn’t doing itself any favors with its outlandish efforts to deny faculty privacy and encroach on faculty autonomy outside the university. Because of the pressure we managed to put on the administration, we helped to get the faculty a good contract. Now we need to stand with the grad students and their union fight. Only this time, the administration is being even more outlandish.
At the heart of the dispute is a demand by the Graduate Teaching Fellows Federation (GTTF) for two weeks of paid leave for illness or childbirth. The city of Eugene, which is where the University is located, mandates that all workers in the city get sick leave benefits. But university employees are exempted from the policy, so the GTTF has to bargain for the benefits.
Now it just so happens that the university’s interim president, Scott Coltrane, is a sociologist who’s a leading national spokesperson for the importance of…good family leave policies. He’s been featured in The Atlantic and on NPR. He was even at the White House last June to speak about how important these policies are. Well, he certainly wouldn’t be the first academic who talks left and walks right.
But here’s where things get really delicious.
Late last month senior administrators circulated a secret memorandum to deans and directors outlining a plan to break the strike by hiring scab labor and weakening academic standards for undergraduate education. You’ve got to read the whole thing to believe it, but here are some of my favorite parts.
First, the administration moots different possibilities for conscripting scab labor from the unionized faculty ranks.
It is generally understood that supervisors [i.e., chairs] can approach represented faculty [i.e., in the bargaining unit] and engage them in a dialogue about assisting for the duration of the strike. This assistance may include, but is not limited to: teaching, grading, or participating in the hiring of replacement workers…In the event that there is a specific need that may require assigning work to a represented faculty member who has refused to accept it, please contact Academic Affairs for further guidance about that particular situation.
Keep in mind that many of these full-timers who are to be “engaged in a dialogue” or face the possibility of being reported to “Academic Affairs for further guidance” are not tenured.
Then there’s the faculty who aren’t represented by any kind of union. Here’s how they ought to be approached for scab labor:
Similar to represented faculty, we will be seeking volunteers from among our unrepresented faculty ranks for coverage of work previously assigned to GTFs. Unlike represented faculty, there is no ambiguity as to whether departments can explicitly assign the work should the need arise. Again, every effort should be made to find volunteers to cover the work.
Hire LCC instructors or other community subject matter experts.
For a strike occurring on or after finals week, departments should have a plan in place for covering finals and grading that is performed by GTFs.
1. Consider whether the final exam can be reformatted so that it can be graded easily (e.g., Scantron or multiple-choice). Please note that the reformatted final exams should have an equal level of rigor as originally planned.
2. To provide proctor coverage for exams, please use the teaching function strategies above.
3. Provide students with the following options:
a. Forgo the final and take the grade they had going into the final
b. Take the final, but receive an “X” (missing grade) until such time that the finals can be graded
I’m told that the university is spending more on legal and consulting fees (not to mention scab pay) than it would cost to cover paid leave.
Thankfully, twelve department heads and program directors issued a public letter to senior administrators refusing to engage in strikebreaking activities on practical, pedagogical, and moral grounds, threatening to resign their administrative positions if forced to do so. I hope more join them.
The strike could yet be avoided if the university administration were to offer meaningful concessions. And for that they need more pressure.
You can help by emailing President Scott Coltrane at firstname.lastname@example.org and Provost Francis Bronet at email@example.com and urging them to settle with the GTFF.
You can also sign this petition:
We—the faculty, staff, and students of the University of Oregon and the community at large—express our strong support for the Graduate Teaching Fellows Federation (the GTFF) in their current contractual negotiations with the University.
In light of the invaluable contribution GTFs make to the instruction and research missions of the University, we feel GTFs have earned a contract that provides them with fair compensation, respectful treatment, and the basic securities provided to other campus employee groups.
We demand that the University take seriously the GTFF’s bargaining proposals— a minimum wage that actually meets living expenses for graduate students in Eugene and paid parental and sick leave.
We stand beside the GTFF and call upon the University administration to take concrete and immediate steps, at the bargaining table and beyond, to provide GTFs with the fair wages, equitable benefits, and respectful working conditions they deserve.
Please make sure to reach out to these folks, and please circulate this post widely.