A mock funeral procession, complete with a wooden casket, made its way through campus on on Wednesday afternoon, starting on 13th Avenue and ending at Johnson Hall.
The “Funeral for our Contract” rally was organized by the Graduate Teaching Fellows Federation to protest the loss of their collective bargaining agreement — a contract that has existed for nearly 40 years that decides salaries and benefits for graduate employees. The most recent iteration of the bargaining agreement lasted for three years and expired March 31.
“The university is proposing dramatic cuts in health insurance coverage for graduate employees,” said Michael Marchman, staff organizer for the GTFF. “So I’d like to pay my final respects to the contract. Thank you so much for all you’ve done for generations of graduate employees at the University of Oregon.”
The GTFF represents graduate employees who work for the university as teachers, researchers or administrators for their departments. According to UO’s employee and labor relations webpage, there were 1,487 graduate employees working for UO as of fall 2018.
Since November, the GTFF has been bargaining with the university in hopes to improve on the terms of the previous contract. According to the GTFF bargaining blog, their main concerns are making sure GE’s receive a livable wage, without losing their healthcare benefits. The GTFF also seeks to provide international GE’s with extra support.
According to the proposal, UO currently offers a lower minimum salary than the other 62 schools in the Association of American Universities. UO’s proposal seeks to increase minimum salaries for GEs by reducing health benefits.
GTFF President Michael Magee has been instrumental in the bargaining process for a new contract. While he agrees that a raise in the minimum salaries of GEs is necessary, he doesn’t want to get there by cutting healthcare benefits.
“This is about University of Oregon trying to balance its own mismanagement of its budget on the backs of its lowest-paid instructional employees,” Magee said. “They want to cut health insurance so that in the long term they can save a marginal amount of money on the backs of graduate employees.”
Magee says that loss of healthcare benefits would be especially impactful to GEs with children or GEs with partners on their insurance. For this reason, it’s not something he’s willing to negotiate.
“We have been nothing but polite and civil and pleasant and tried to understand their priorities. We've said to them, ‘We are not walking backwards on health insurance,’” Magee said.
The next bargaining session will be held at noon on Friday, April 5 in the EMU’s North Crater Lake Room. The session is open to the public or available to watch on the GTFF livestream on Twitch.com.