Graduate Student Employees at University of Oregon Win Strike, 2014

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Time Period:  
December 2nd
December 10th
Location and Goals
United States
Location City/State/Province: 
Eugene, Oregon
Graduate teaching fellows demanded paid medical and family leave, as well as a cost of living based wage increase.

The Graduate Teaching Fellows Federation (GTFF) was founded at the University of Oregon in December 1975 as a union to represent the interests of graduate students employed by the University. In 2014, during an era of weaker unions, the University hired an outside law firm to negotiate its labor relations, though in it's 39 years of existence, the GTFF had never engaged in a strike to negotiate a labor relations dispute.

Pending renewal of their employment contract in November of 2014, the GTFF requested paid sick and family leave along with a wage increase to account for local inflation and cost of living increases. The administration initially refused to meet the demands, and, in November, the GTFF voted to begin a strike on 2 December 2014 just before final exams week, a crucial point in the academic calendar.

When the graduate students initiated the strike, the administration conceded a 9% wage hike over the next two years, but refused to make a concrete plan for paid sick and family leave. As the strike continued, the Administration launched a public campaign against the GTFF, claiming that their demands were impractical, proposed rescheduling classes so that graduate teachers would be unnecessary, and threatened deportation of international students who were graduate teachers if they participated in the strike. The strikers responded with continued solidarity and picketing by at least 700-800 participants.

On 1 December 2014, the student body senate and the faculty senate voted in support of the strike, and the United Academics and Service Employees International Union endorsed the campaign. At the inaugural rally for the strike that day, the mayor of Eugene, a city council member and a county commissioner, spoke and vocalized the council’s support for the campaign.

On 10 December 2014, the strike ended after a 22 hour marathon mediation session. While the striking students did not achieve their demand of paid family and medical leave, they did secure the creation of a hardship fund totaling $150,000 that would be available to employees in need. The terms of access to the fund were formalized in the agreement, with funds of $1,000 available for medical needs and $1,500 for maternity leave. Additionally, the administration and the strikers agreed on a formal 10% wage hike over the next two years.

The union emerged from the struggle improved and with greater notoriety. The strikers improved their wage increase from 9% to 10%, and succeeded in securing a partial victory with the creation of the hardship fund.

Research Notes
"History of GTFF." Graduate Teaching Fellows Federation. GTFF, 2015. Web. 27 Sept. 2015.

Chen, Michelle. "How Did These Graduate Students Improve Their Working Conditions? They Went on Strike!" The Nation. The Nation, 12 Dec. 2014. Web. 27 Sept. 2015.

"University of Oregon Strike Ends after 22-hour Mediation Session (photos)." The Oregonian. The Oregonian, 10 Dec. 2014. Web. 27 Sept. 2015.

Mulhere, Kaitlin. "U. of Oregon Grad Students Strike for Better Benefits | InsideHigherEd." Inside Higher Ed. Inside Higher Ed, n.d. Web. 26 Sept. 2015.

Name of researcher, and date dd/mm/yyyy: 
Lewis Fitzgerald-Holland, 21 September 2017