As GTFF pickets, UO students react
These chants were heard all along 13th Avenue as the Graduate Teaching Fellows Federation gathered outside of Willamette Hall on Nov. 19. As passing students were diverted into the street, GTFs marched in the cold air – all in the name of a fair contract.
On Monday, Nov. 17, the GTFF began their informational pickets on campus. The GTFF held picket captain trainings during the previous week to prepare GTFF members to lead pickets if the strike occurs. Picket captains are in charge of boosting morale and deal with any conflict that arises on the picket line.
According to picket captain and GTF Annie Caruso, the purpose of these pickets is to educate passerby.
“This is supposed to demonstrate our seriousness about the strike because no one wants to cause any more stoppage,” Caruso said. “What we want to do is to ramp up pressure to hopefully not have a strike, but if we do, have it be over very quickly.”
The GTFF and the Student Labor Action Project stood along the sidewalk giving informational flyers to students. Faculty, construction workers and SEIU members arrived to support GTFs. The SEIU have used its paid leave as an argument for GTFs, who work under a 0.5 Full-Time Equivalent, to receive paid leave. According to their contract, classified staff working under half-time accrue paid leave.
As she passed the picket line outside of McKenzie Hall, UO student Megan Schaap shared her thoughts on the potential strike.
“Honestly, I understand the GTFs better than the actual professor,” Schaap said. “I don’t want them to leave.”
The picketing took some students by surprise. Student Michelle Nguyen encountered the GTFF outside of Willamette Hall. “I knew they were talking about going on strike, but I wasn’t expecting, like, a protest,” Nguyen said, laughing.
“It’s great that they’re doing this,” Nguyen said. “I wouldn’t have the grades that I have now if it weren’t for my GTF’s office hours. This spreads awareness so students notice. It’s affecting our education; we’re paying for this.”
For UO student Sam Lee, the picket line was the first time he has seen the GTFF in action.
“I always hear what’s going on,” Lee said. “I could hear it in class; it’s pretty distracting and annoying. But you’re really sending a message this way.”
Some UO students did more than grab a flyer on the way to their next class. SLAP president and senior Gabrielle Cicourel walked the picket line alongside GTFs.
“It’s been really motivating,” Cicourel said. “It’s a good way of getting undergraduates’ attention. It’s been cold, but it’s all worth it.”
The picketing follows the administration offering two weeks of “flex time” for GTFs. In an email to students, interim provost Frances Bronet explained the most recent offer, under which GTFs could flex their hours to take up to two weeks off due to a family or major medical situation.
“During the period that GTFs are exercising flex time, they will still receive full salaries, tuition and fee waivers, and health insurance coverage for their entire family,” Bronet wrote. More information is available here.
In a letter published on the GTFF website, GTFF president Joe Henry explained why it was turned down.
“The “flex-time” proposal would offer to GTFs who need to take unpaid leave for medical or parental reasons the possibility to shift some of their time into other portions of their appointment as to limit the reduction of FTE that grad employee would experience,” Henry wrote. “However, the proposal does not contain any guarantees that a GTF’s FTE will not be reduced. It does not even guarantee that GTFs will have access to “flex-time” – a GTF can request “flex-time” but receiving it is at the discretion of the graduate school. “Flex-time” does not change the reality faced by GTFs with single term appointments or GTFs who unexpectedly need leave near the end of their appointments.”
The GTFF mailed its formal intent to strike on Nov. 19, stating that the first day of the strike would officially be Dec. 2. There will be a final mediation session scheduled with the GTFF and the administration. If an agreement is not reached a strike will begin.
“I think we have an excellent chance of getting all of these demands met,” Caruso said. “We just have to stay strong.”
Follow Francesca Fontana on Twitter @francescamarief
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