The Graduate Teaching Fellows Federation (GTFF) held an emergency meeting on Friday, October 17, and their members voted to reject the university administration’s latest offer. The GTFF declared impasse and filed appropriate paperwork with the Employment Relations Board. If they do go ahead with a strike, it would be most likely to occur in week 10 or finals week.
There has been plenty of conversation around campus about how faculty should respond in the event of a strike by the GTFF. The university administration has been urging deans and department heads to get faculty to volunteer to replace striking GTFs. Some department and unit heads have raised tough questions about the implications for graduate students of these strike-breaking initiatives, presented by the “Academic Continuity Team” of the administration. We understand that these plans involve department heads arranging one-on-one meetings with faculty to discuss their willingness to take on additional work and replace striking graduate student employees. We also understand that the administration may press deans and unit heads to enlist non-tenure-track faculty for this purpose – a troubling prospect, given the greater vulnerability of NTT faculty to such pressure. It remains to be seen whether the university administration will follow through on any of these plans.
Settling a fair contract is the best way to avoid disruptions from a strike. We hesitate to speak for a sister union, but you can read about the history of their bargaining and the reasoning behind their actions at their website. We fail to understand the administration’s resistance to paying GTFs a living wage or providing them with a bare minimum of sick leave, the two issues that remain unresolved.
In the event that no agreement is reached, however, we think it is important for everyone in the UA bargaining unit to understand their rights and obligations under the collective bargaining agreement.
First and foremost, remember that if you are called into a meeting to discuss a potential GTFF strike, you have the right to ask for union representation. You can request union representation by replying to this email.
In addition to the information we released previously, we hope the following points will help you through a potential strike:
- Faculty need not cross a GTFF picket line beyond their contractual obligation to fulfill specific on-campus responsibilities.
Under Oregon state law and by the provisions of our collective bargaining agreement (CBA), faculty cannot engage in a “strike, slowdown, walkout, refusal to report to work, mass absenteeism, or other interruptions of work” while our CBA is still in effect. Practically speaking, this means you cannot join a GTFF strike and refuse to cross the picket line. You are legally obligated to perform the work you are contracted to do. It would support the striking GTFs, though, if you did not cross their picket line to perform work you are not contracted to do on campus. Staying away from campus, except to fulfill contractual obligations, is one way to aid this effort.
- Faculty have no professional or moral obligation to volunteer to perform the work of striking GTFs.
If the University of Oregon behaves as other administrations have done in similar situations, the administration will try to pressure faculty to cover for striking GTFFs by calling on our commitment to our mission to provide an excellent education to the undergraduate students. They will appeal to our commitment to our careers in order to prevail over the GTFF.
Whatever your stance on the GTFF negotiations, we believe strongly that we have a duty to support our graduate student scholars-in-training in their fight for basic rights in the workplace. We know our graduate teaching fellows are committed to undergraduate education; we work with them every day and see their dedication. We know that striking is a last resort for our GTFs. Standing with our fellow academic employees and graduate students will help us all build a better university.
- Faculty need not volunteer to perform the work of striking GTFs.
No faculty member is under any obligation to volunteer for a striking academic employee, no matter how trivial the work. The university administration has stated a preference for having faculty volunteer to perform the work of striking GTFs. You have no contractual obligation to volunteer.
- Faculty have the right to refuse to be assigned the work of striking GTFs if they believe that the additional workload is unreasonable.
Our CBA states “Bargaining unit faculty members will not unreasonably refuse to perform [striking GTF] work.” We agreed then, and we agree now, that faculty should not unreasonably refuse to perform such work. We also strongly believe that the determination of what work is or is not unreasonable should be decided by the faculty, who are, after all, in the best position to judge whether additional work in the last two weeks of the term is “unreasonable.” The administration may well disagree with an individual faculty member’s definition of “unreasonable,” nor can we predict how a dispute of “unreasonableness” would fare in arbitration. In light of these uncertainties, faculty should assert their desire to have a union representative present in negotiations with deans and unit heads.
- Faculty have their own work. Faculty have full teaching loads. Faculty have full research loads. Faculty have full lives. Most faculty have no additional time, energy, or ability to take on extra work in the last two weeks of the term.
We do not, at this time, know what will happen if administrators, including department or unit heads, try to assign work to faculty. We strongly urge faculty members to consult with union officers or staff if they wish to refuse an assignment on the grounds that an assignment is unreasonable. We strongly believe that most, if not all, faculty members will not be in a position to accept additional work at a time when the workload is already heavy. We do not expect that the university will attempt to assign additional work to faculty until we get closer to a potential strike. Finally, we believe that any additional work that faculty members take should be considered an overload, which would have to be compensated. Faculty, in other words, have the right to ask, “If I do this overload work, what will the compensation be?”
The GTFF has never gone out on strike, so this will be the campus’s first experience with a graduate employee strike. We will have to work together and cooperate to ensure that everyone understands their rights and obligations.
We have posted more information about a potential GTFF strike in a Frequently Asked Questions page. If you have additional questions about a GTF strike, please contact the office at info[at]uauoregon.org.