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