On Tuesday the Graduate Teaching Fellows Federation (GTFF) at the University of Oregon went on strike. Representing more than 1500 graduate teaching assistants, this is the union’s first strike since members organized nearly 40 years ago. Last week, members voted to withhold their labor until the university agrees to a fair policy for maternity and medical leave. UO responded, suggesting that faculty offer “alternative assignments” in lieu of traditional finals and calling on other university employees to “take attendance” in any classes left without an instructor. This, of course, calls into question the integrity of the UO’s core mission – to educate.

Across the nation, more and more universities are attempting to balance their books on the backs of teaching assistants and part-time instructors. Universities treat us as employees in our workload, hours, and responsibilities, but regard us merely as “students” when it comes to our pay, benefits, and working conditions. Meanwhile, administrative costs and pet projects (athletics and medical schools, for instance) continue to eat up financial resources and we are left living paycheck to paycheck, accumulating mountains of debt.

We fully support the GTFF strike and stand in solidarity with our brothers and sisters in Oregon. Our power depends on our ability to work and act together. The romanticized notion that graduate school is supposed to be a trial by fire, complete with a diet of ramen noodles, just doesn’t cut it when we are asked to teach 40% of the university’s students. Medical and maternity/paternity leave are fundamental rights. We should not have to choose between showing up to work sick and missing a rent payment.

More importantly, the GTFF strike provides a time for reflection on our own contract negotiations here at WMU. While negotiations are proceeding smoothly, we have yet to discuss any of our economic challenges at the bargaining table. We have not yet discussed health care, benefits, living wages, and tuition credits. If we want to make things better for TAs, our students and our campus, we need to work together. If we want better pay, benefits, and working conditions, we need to fight for them.

Please don’t read this as a call to strike. We are optimistic that our negotiations will result in a better deal for all TAs at Western, but there are no guarantees other than this: things will only get better if we find time in our busy schedules to GET INVOLVED and work together.

To show your support and follow developments in Oregon  and at WMU, like us at www.facebook.com/tauaft

In solidarity,
Eric Denby

This past week, the Teaching Assistants Union took action. The university was charging some members of our union extra fees for taking program related courses online. We filed a grievance, participating in two hearings with the administration, and after two denials, we collectively filed a demand to arbitrate. Over the past week, many of you have signed our petition and on Thursday, forty of us delivered those petitions to Provost Greene. I’m happy to say that before our action on Thursday the administration agreed to reimburse any TAs charged additional tuition for taking program related courses off-campus or online. If you think you qualify for reimbursement, please fill out the form here. It is clear that the university knew about the Nine Means Nine action, that they understood this issue is important to our members, and we’re grateful they decided to remedy a portion of our grievance.

With all that said, we are not done. WMU is charging international students out of pocket costs for English courses, even though they are already teaching courses as TAs. Furthermore, we still believe our contract is simple and clear and that each TA should receive nine credits with no qualifiers or modifiers.

So, what’s next? As a group, we need to decide whether to pursue arbitration over the remaining issues. Independent of arbitration, we also need to organize around these issues and place public pressure on the university. Join the organizing committee and help us enforce our current contract and secure a better one for next year. The last organizing committee meeting of the semester is on Monday, December 1, from 9:30 am to 11 am in the Wesley Center Basement. All members of the union are eligible and encouraged to join the committee.

As always, if you have any questions, please do not hesitate to get in touch with me.

In Solidarity,
Eric Denby
presidenttauaft@gmail.com

At last week's meeting we approved, by unanimous consent, the TAU Statement of Principles for this year's bargaining.  This is the guiding document that will assist our bargaining team with negotiations this year.  We would like to thank the team for working so hard on preparing this document and preparing for our next employment contract.

A Fair Contract
TAU Statement of Principles
2014-2015 Contract Negotiations

FAIR PAY

  • Cost-of-living adjustments (COLA) tied to inflation
  • Shrink the summer funding gap
  • More competitive wages with peer institutions
  • Affordable housing options
  • More campus discounts
  • No more enrollment fees!

AFFORDABLE HEALTHY LIVING

  • Fixed cap on health care premiums in accordance with the Affordable Care Act
  • Free year-round Student Recreation Center access
  • Additional leave for maternity, paternity and personal reasons

IMPROVED WORKING CONDITIONS

  • More clearly defined workload
  • One- or Two-Year appointments
  • Pay for professional development
  • Increase the number of Full-Time appointments
  • Greater transparency about department budgets and appointments

RESTRUCTURED TUITION AWARDS

  • Resident status for all teaching assistants
  • Rollover unused credits
  • No cost for employment
  • Graduation Bonus/Tuition Cash Out?

Join us for our October Membership meeting. We're going to vote on our Bargaining Statement of Principles, discuss the upcoming negotiations of our new contract, talk about how to make our union stronger, vote on an adjustment to our budget, and discuss the upcoming elections.

Friday, October 17
10 am to 11:30 am
Wood Hall, 1728

Bagels, fruit, and coffee will be served.

Please RSVP to presidenttauaft@gmail.com

I was honored to join with TAU members Jaafar Hachem and Kristie Bailey in addressing the board of trustees meeting today.  As we prepare to bargain with the administration in a collaborative manner, we thought it best to introduce the Board to the TAU.  While Jaafar and Kristie spoke of their individual experiences as members of the Teaching Assistants Union, I provided a macro view of TA importance.  Below are my remarks.

*****************
My name is Eric Denby and I am proud to be the president of the Teaching Assistants Union.  I am proud to represent the 497 teaching assistants on campus.  In the next few weeks, we will begin negotiating our contract with the administration.  I am excited for this opportunity.

By investing in teaching assistants we have the unique opportunity to not only improve our graduate programs but also to invest in undergraduate students, whose success is critical to the academic and financial health of this university.  Every dollar you spend in graduate assistantships has an exponential impact on our core mission.

TAU IS Learner Centered
We teach more than 25% of all undergraduate students, more than 23% of undergraduate courses, and are responsible for more than 18% of all undergraduate credit hours.  Just last spring, our TAs had 25,914 students in their classrooms and taught a total of 871 courses.

TAU IS Discovery Driven
Our world class faculty is benefiting humanity in ways yet unknown with their research - We empower them to do this important work by helping to teach our many undergraduate students.

TAU IS Globally Engaged
More than 25% of teaching assistants are international students bringing diverse cultural experiences into our classrooms.  International students add unique perspective to our campus, yet they also experience unique challenges which we hope we can work together to address.

However, I am concerned, as we have 25 fewer teaching assistants this year compared to last.  This divestment in our graduate program is disheartening and needs to be reversed.  If we are to truly be learner centered, discovery driven, and globally engaged, then the training of future academics and advanced professionals must be made a budget priority.

Although labor negotiations are often seen as adversarial in nature, I pledge to you that TAU will approach this process with a collaborative attitude as we hope to create a stronger institution for the future.

Thank you.