Tuesday, December 2, 2014

On Striking and Organized Labor

Today, I spent 4 hours holding a sign and walking in a circle in 35 degree weather. I walked approximately 10 miles, shouted approximately a billion slogans (slight exaggeration), and it was exhausting. The lead-up to the strike, and now the reality of the first strike in our union's 38 year history, has been emotional, frustrating, challenging, angering, and so very tiring. I've been posting regularly on Facebook, and thought I would share excerpts here (self-plagiarization ftw!); it's completely non-beauty-related, but it's hardly the first time that's been the case...And as usual, an excess of emotions results in an excess of words, so it's pretty long. Enjoy?

November 21, 2014 – 2 weeks before the strike
There's been a lot of misinformation spread about the impending GTFF (Graduate Teaching Fellows Federation) strike, scheduled to start Dec. 2. The UO administration has repeatedly misrepresented the current contract, their own offers, and the bargaining process thus far, including taking credit for inclusions they fought hard against and lying to international students about risks to their immigration status if they strike. For an excellent summary of some of the more pervasive lies, see: http://gtff3544.net/bargainin…/clarifying-misunderstandings/. A number of department heads, including Linguistics, wrote a letter to the upper-level administration, which you can (and definitely should!) read here: https://dl.dropboxusercontent.com/…/HeadsAndDirectors_Lette….

If you are an undergrad and have a GTF (which, as we teach 1/3 of UO classes and 98% of "special sections" [discussion sections and labs, primarily], is practically guaranteed), you can read up about how the strike might effect you here: http://gtff3544.net/bargaining-fa…/letter-to-undergraduates/. Unlike the Provost, the GTFF can not send out emails to the entire university community, so if you are an undergrad/spend any time with undergrads, please do consider reading it and sharing it.

There are many things about this that make me angry, but I don't want this to become even longer than it already is, so I will just say:
We teach your classes. We grade your tests. We mentor your students, do your research, keep your university running. And 56% of us make less than the UO's own cost-of-living calculation. We're not asking for that to be rectified (the wage increase proposed only applies to the ~250 lowest-paid GTFs out of a total of ~1500); we just want to know that if a medical emergency occurs, we won't lose our jobs and health insurance, and that if we decide to have children, we have options besides taking time off or leaving school entirely.

And, for God's sake, maybe some indication that the University of Oregon values education, not just athletics and administrator salaries.

Guess what? We didn't get that indication. Here's a rundown of why we're striking and the fund that was proposed by the university in place of paid medical and parental leave.

December 1, 2014 – Day before the strike

"Just as we stood last week, the last important piece of the puzzle is if there will actually be CBA language of the proposed Graduate Assistance Fund. The Administration still refuses to make this a legally binding provision of our contract. They control entirely who can access the fund, how much money graduate students would get, and what any appeal process is. In a small bit of movement, they did allow the GTFF to appoint 1 committee member who over sees the fund, but there is no limit to the number of other Administrators who can sit on the fund and make all the decisions. Along with other key elements missing from our CBA, GTFs who need leave for medical or parental reasons are not guaranteed protections. The Administration can change the rules and eliminate benefits for GTFs. This is unacceptable."

Ready to Strike Rally outside Johnson now until 6:00, and picketing all day tomorrow.

Even if you are not a graduate student, or do not care about whether we get paid leave, you should still consider coming out tomorrow and supporting us in the picket lines––the university administration has shown a despicable lack of regard for the integrity of organized labor on campus, and an equal disregard for the academic quality of instruction for undergrads (and graduate students!), and needs to be shown that we will not stand for it. Yes, it is raining, and barely above freezing, and we're tired and stressed and frustrated and the last thing we want is to protest in the rain, but: wear your raincoats, bring your gloves and hats, and get ready to party, picket-line-style.

December 2, 2014 – Day 1 of the strike
Picket lines started at 8:00 am this morning and ran until 5:00, with a rally from 5:00-6:00 outside administration headquarters. I personally walked from 9:30-1:45, and was very grateful for my brother's "boat coat", which, as it is designed to be worn on the ocean after getting done with scuba diving, is extremely warm and waterproof, albeit about 8 sizes too large for me (that, plus the XL men's winter gloves I was wearing, made me look like some kind of bloated munchkin). We got support from many people and groups on campus––the faculty union brought us pizza for lunch, the student union brought us Starbucks coffee, the classified staff union walked with us on their breaks––but some (clearly uninformed) undergrad students yelled at us for causing a ruckus. My response:

To all the students complaining that the strike is interrupting class: That's...kind of exactly the point. Tell the administration to give us a fair contract, and the disruption will cease! (Also, seriously, striking isn't a party for us, either. We'd much rather be teaching, in our nice warm classrooms!)

And tonight, after taking a 2 hour nap, my reflection on the day.
In the 8 terms I have been teaching at the AEI, I have only been unable to teach my daily class two times, when I attended a conference in San Diego last fall. This term, I have seen, talked to, gotten to know, and taught my 14 students through 39 days of class. And today, I had to miss the first day of their final presentations to walk in a picket line. (And since the administration isn't returning to bargaining until Thursday, per the president's own email, it looks like I'll be missing the rest of them as well.)

As teachers, we feel immense responsibility to our students, and commensurate guilt when we aren't able to fulfill our responsibilities. In this case, the guilt should lie solely on the administration's shoulders. I am furious with them for so, so many reasons, but the one that hits me hardest is that they forced me to choose between supporting my union and supporting my students. I should not have had to make that choice.

It is not about money now, if it ever was (there is, after all, a $63 million budget surplus). Giving us paid leave, or the proposed fund that would provide the same benefits, would cost them around $52,000 a year; they have spent 5 times that on a lawyer. It is not about education, since no one benefits from having unqualified scabs cover for the workers on strike. It is not a philosophical difference, as the president himself has advocated at length the importance of parental leave. It is about power.

We are striking because the university wants us to take on faith that it will disburse the leave funds on their own volition; their staunch refusal to put it in the contract certainly argues against the advisability of any such faith. We are striking because the university administration has lied to, threatened, and betrayed the students of this school. We are striking because it is (almost!) unbelievable that the administration would rather disrupt classes, jeopardize financial aid, dilute the academic integrity of the university, and intentionally sow discord on this campus than acknowledge that graduate students do work and should receive the same benefits that other workers on campus do. (The exception being adjuncts who work less than half-time, and their argument, that if they give it to us then they'll have to give it to them, is really no argument at all; we all should have access to paid leave.)

Until today, no graduate student union had ever gone to strike in Oregon. The fact that we had to over something so absurdly minor does not reflect well on the current university administration, and emphasizes just how important organized labor continues to be. It is incredibly frustrating to know that many students on campus know only the twisted "facts" presented by the administration, and blame us for causing trouble. But the truth is on our side, and the GTFF union, supported on campus by the ASUO, SEIU, and United Academics, and by unions and groups across the city and state, will not be cowed.

If you support our cause, regardless of whether you're a graduate student, undergrad, adjunct, professor, or random person from the community, please consider joining a picket line, even if just for a few minutes. If you're on campus, when you pass by a group of strikers, give us high-fives! Honk your horn! Shake some pom-poms! Some of us have been out picketing for hours (and, since we have to be constantly moving, the miles add up quickly!), and we appreciate any support more than you can know.

I'll end (this one, heh) by saying that I'm just *thrilled* at the prospective of getting to do it all again tomorrow, only this time in the rain! #ThanksAdministration #TheStrikeIsOn #ThisIsWhatDemocracyLooksLike #PayGTFsNotLawyers #FairContractNow #GTFF3544 #WeAreUO

Dealing with the administration is exhausting, which is evidently their goal. But we're young, and numerous, and energetic, and mad as hell, so BRING IT. As a fellow grad student said, not even the cold rain will douse our righteous fury. 
So...if you made it all the way here, hi, you must be a regular reader (and therefore used to my verbosity). Any thoughts? Suggestions? Jokes? Favorite chants?
Related Posts Plugin for WordPress, Blogger...