January 28, 2019
I write you today to provide an update on the graduate employee bargaining efforts that are now underway. On Friday, January 19, the University of Oregon presented its first proposal to the graduate employee union and launched a webpage to keep campus informed about the process.
Our graduate employees are vital to the teaching and research mission of every college, school, department, and center on our campus. As both students and employees, they fill a unique role within our university, and it is imperative that we provide them with the institutional support they need to be successful here at the UO and for their future. We value and appreciate our graduate employees and are committed to providing them with a fair and equitable employment contract that is competitive with peers in the Association of American Universities.
This requires us to look at two different buckets: salary and benefits. If you consider the salary bucket, on average, the UO offers lower stipends than other AAU institutions. That needs to change. The proposal we have put on the table equates to a 14.7 percent increase to the minimums in salary for our graduate employees next year, which would put the UO ahead of the AAU average. All graduate employees working three terms would see their annual pay increase by $2,088.
To achieve the salary investment, we have to take a look at our benefits package. Our current health insurance package is about twice as generous as those offered by peer AAU institutions, and we waive more fees than other institutions. We understand the importance of those benefits and are committed to offering an excellent package. But obscuring the value of our benefits by leaving them outside the salary received by graduate employees undercuts our recruiting ability and denies our graduate employees the ability to choose whether they want to spend their earnings on additional benefits or things such as food, shelter, or transportation.
Realigning at least a portion of our benefits to salary and increasing minimum salaries provides both a clearer picture of our offers to prospective graduate students and more take-home pay for current GEs. It is important to note that the graduate employee union has the autonomy to choose the health insurance package that makes the most sense for its members, and our proposal would leave them with enough resources for a health care package that is nearly 50 percent higher in value than the support offered by AAU peers. In addition, our mandatory fee coverage would be consistent with what is offered by other public AAU institutions.
All in all, the proposal from the university equates to a net 1 percent increase in the total compensation package for graduate employees during the 2019-20 academic calendar, which would be followed up with a .8 percent cost-of-living adjustments for the next two academic years.
I also want to be clear that we are committed to negotiating from a core set of guiding principles:
- Commitment of good faith – The institution will work in good faith throughout the negotiation process to achieve an agreement that best meets the needs of our graduate employees, our faculty, and the entire university.
- Transparency – The university will provide factual information and periodic updates to keep key stakeholders apprised, engaged, and informed.
- Competitive compensation package – The university should offer an excellent compensation package that attracts and retains top talent in our graduate programs. We will strive to provide a package that offers competitive wages, quality health care, and tuition and fee waivers that are competitive with our comparator institutions.
- Long-term success of graduate programs – During these negotiations, the university will strive to further its long-term goal of maintaining top-tier graduate programs that are successful and competitive now and into the future.
- Responsible stewardship of public funds and tuition dollars – Many of you know that the governor has proposed flat funding for higher education for the next biennium, with the hope that we will get additional resources from a new tax package. If the legislature adopts a flat budget with no additional investment in higher education, we will face a very large budget gap given the cost increases that the UO is facing next year.
This is the beginning of negotiations and our team looks forward to working with our graduate employees to reach a mutually agreeable contract. Please feel free to share the university’s negotiations website. We want our campus community to understand what we are doing and why. If you have any suggestions for me, please provide them at firstname.lastname@example.org. You can also reach our Employee and Labor Relations bargaining team at email@example.com.
Thank you, and I hope that we can make this process one that delivers a great result for our graduate students, our faculty, and the broader university.
Provost and Senior Vice President