More than 780 graduate research and teaching assistants at the Oregon State University are now the proud members of a bargaining unit represented by the Coalition of Graduate Employees/AFT. On March 6, an overwhelming majority of the assistants voted for CGE.
It was a day that had been a long time coming, says Wren Keturi, president of CGE. "This election nearly doubles CGE's current bargaining unit and significantly increases the power of graduate employees on campus," she said in announcing the victory.
CGE is affiliated with AFT-Oregon and since 1999 has represented more than 900 OSU graduate employees, who are predominantly teaching assistants. When the union formed, the university successfully argued that a portion of graduate assistants were engaged in research primarily to fulfill advanced degree requirements, and they were found ineligible to be part of the bargaining unit.
Despite their ineligibility, the unrepresented assistants still received the same pay and health benefits as CGE members and were on the university's payroll system. CGE allowed them to be associate members of the union and negotiated contracts that did not recognize a difference, says Keturi. "We have tried to bargain for the research assistants to the best of our abilities," she says, "but because they weren't part of the unit, they didn't have a voice at the table. The have always known they were in a precarious position in regard to their rights—should they be unjustly fired, for instance."
Last spring, the unrepresented graduate employees signed cards asking the Oregon Employment Relations Board for the right to vote on collective bargaining. The university resisted and appealed, but all the obstacles thrown in the path to unionization were finally cleared in January when the OERB ruled the assistants were employees, not just students.
"We're looking forward to bargaining with the collective strength of 1,700 as we work to improve working and living conditions for us all," says Keturi. [Barbara McKenna/photo by Matt Loewen]
March 15, 2013