Last chance: strike or settle?

The Graduate Teaching Fellows Federation and University of Oregon administration have been at a standstill in contract negotiations for more than six months. Monday is the last day the parties can come to an agreement, otherwise GTFs will strike for the first time in the university’s history.

Here’s what you need to know:

If negotiations fail and the GTFs strike:

What would the strike look like?

Instead of teaching their scheduled classes, GTFs who choose to strike will picket various locations on campus.

Picketing is the term used when members of a union and their sympathizers rally in front of a building or other location with signs and other material demonstrative of the strike.

GTFs can join the strike or leave at any time in its duration. However, once a GTF leaves the strike, he or she can’t join the picket line again.

The GTFs who choose to strike are doing so as employees of the university, not students. They can still cross the picket line to attend classes and do research. Former GTFF President Judith Lechner, for example, will be striking but will cross the picket line to defend her dissertation.

Why are they picketing?

“The goal of the picket is to be visible, to share information and to let people know if they decide to go into that building, they’re crossing your picket line,” GTFF picket captain Annie Caruso said, “and to let them know that we’re defining that picket line as a moral boundary.”

The GTFs who have decided to strike have not taken their decision lightly.

“It’s really not about creating trouble,” Lechner said. “It’s really difficult for every one of us. Every single person on this campus who is in a GTF position on a daily basis walks the extra mile for their departments and for their students.”

According to interim provost Frances Bronet, the mediation has been difficult for all involved.

“It’s really hard for many of us,” Bronet said. “We’re a family and we want to make sure that everyone is well-treated and feels like they’re a part of this incredible community.”

Can I still email my GTFs? Will they hold office hours?

Many GTFs consider stopping their work as not answering emails pertaining to the classes they teach as employees.

However, they may refer the student to other resources such as the professor of the class. GTFs on strike won’t hold office hours, but some who plan  to strike have held extra office hours the week before the potential strike to accommodate students.

When would the strike start?

According to the GTFF’s intent to strike, the first day of any strike would be Tuesday, Dec. 2.

How long will the strike last?

The strike will last as long as it takes for the UO and GTFF to reach an agreement. The last strike at UO was the Service Employees International Union 503 in 1995 and lasted less than a week, according to Julie Brown, senior director of communications.

How will this affect dead week and finals week?

For classes in which GTFs are not striking, dead week and finals week will continue as planned. If your GTF is on strike, classes will not be cancelled but instead taught by someone else.

There’s no way to know how many GTFs are participating in a strike until it begins, Brown said.

Will professors still give finals?

Yes, in certain cases. All final exams will be proctored, but it is not certain who will proctor them, according to Bronet. While professors can step in if they have the time, exams may also be proctored by faculty who have been trained to do so.

“These are people who are deeply, deeply prepared and can only do it through the approval of either the department or the supervising faculty member,” Bronet said.

Will my grade be an X?

No. The university sent out an email on Nov. 26 saying that although the strike would cause “disruption” on finals week, “there are plans in place to ensure that grades will be entered to complete the term.”

“The supervising faculty members are very aware that they are responsible to make sure that grades are submitted,” Bronet said.

If both sides come to an agreement and there’s no strike:

How did they avoid a work stoppage?

The GTFF and UO would come to an agreement on matters such as wages and paid leave. The most recent mediation sessions on Nov. 25 and 26 were unsuccessful. The two groups returned to mediation for a final session on Monday at 8 a.m.

“I’m extraordinarily hopeful that we can resolve it as soon as possible – but if there is a strike, we actually are as prepared as we can be,” Bronet said.

So far, the administration has offered zero weeks of paid medical and parental leave, instead offering “flex time.”

What is flex time?

In layman’s terms, it’s unpaid leave. Two weeks’ worth, to be exact.

“It was specifically to address that if you’re going to have an emergency or if you’re going to have a baby and you’re in the middle of your term, the graduate school would enable you to take the two weeks off and you don’t have to argue about it or feel awkward about it,” Bronet said. “You’re fundamentally guaranteed those two weeks to be able to leave or to be able to do what you need to.”

GTFs would still get their work done, but Brown says the flex time would make accommodating any leave more flexible. The GTFF declined that offer because it is not paid.

Do any other schools in the U.S. offer paid parental leave or other things the GTFF is asking for? 

Some schools do, but it’s not common, Rodolfo Palma, field representative for the American Federation of Teachers Oregon told the Emerald on Nov. 17.

Schools in the Association of American Universities — an organization of research universities the UO belongs to — like Washington State University, the University of Arizona, Penn State, Indiana University and the University of California Berkeley offer paid leave for graduate students, but it’s not so much about what’s offered elsewhere, according to Palma: It’s about what the UO can offer. Palma and the GTFF say the school can afford to give them paid leave.

If the UO offers paid parental leave and other things the GTFF is asking for, will more schools follow suit? Will other GTFs ask for it? 

It’s possible, according to Justin Buchanan, communications coordinator for AFTO, who works with groups like the GTFF on a state level.

“We would definitely hope other schools start following suit,” Buchanan said. “It would mean GTFs would get a contract that’s fair.”

Are GTF requests for paid parental leave becoming more common? 

They are, Buchanan said, and there’s two reasons: the rising cost of higher education and rising amount of students entering post-grad programs in traditional family-rearing years.

“Right now we’re entering a very interesting time in worker history,” Buchanan said, “where workers are once again standing up for their rights and once again demanding to be fairly treated.”

Follow Francesca Fontana on Twitter @francescamarief

Senior news editor Scott Greenstone contributed to this story. 

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Francesca Fontana

Francesca Fontana

Francesca is the associate news editor for community news.
She worked as The Register-Guard's 2015 Snowden Intern, and studies journalism and economics.