Paid medical leave was central issue in new contract.
After more than a year of negotiations, countless rallies and finally an eight-day strike, members of the Graduate Teaching Fellows Federation at the University of Oregon reached a contract agreement Dec. 10.
“The decision to strike was a serious undertaking, but it was necessary to put into practice fair policies for the benefit of employees and students,” says AFT-Oregon President David Rives. It showed “the power of collective action in the workplace.”
One of the key negotiating points was paid sick leave for the 1,500 graduate teaching fellows at the university. The agreement establishes a hardship fund to reimburse graduate students who take time off due to illness, injury, childbirth, adoption or foster care placement. The $150,000 fund will be accessed in $1,000 grants available to all graduate students. It will be administered by a seven-member panel, including two graduate students elected by the graduate student body, and two members designated by the GTFF. The contract also provides a 10 percent wage hike over two years.
By early January, graduate workers had already applied for access to the fund, demonstrating the real need for assistance—a need that was widely recognized.
In addition to an “unprecedented amount of member involvement,” says Jon LaRochelle, a GTFF negotiator, students, faculty and staff joined the strike line, and support from the national union was strong.
LaRochelle was most touched by the daily demonstrations during negotiations. “It was a soul suck to be in the mediation room,” he says. Joining the end-of-day march “was inspiring and rejuvenating.”
“No one should have to choose between their paycheck, and taking care of themselves or family members when they are sick,” said AFT President Randi Weingarten during the strike. “Once this agreement is … implemented fully, the graduate employees of the University of Oregon won’t be forced to make these choices.”