5/28/03 - Corvallis, OR - Oregon State University
As students wandered through the memorial union quad, OSU employees kicked off a rally to demand that the schools administration settle their negotiations. Graduate teaching and research assistants, and classified employees from all over campus gathered at the tables and awnings setup to let students and staff write letters to the administration. OSU employees are fighting for their benefits and it seems the administration could care less. Bargaining team members from both the graduate employees union (CGE) and the classified staff union (OPEU SEIU 503 Local 83) gave reports that contrasted sharply with what administration officials have been saying about OSU employees. The classified employees told of how the OUS bargaining team walked out of negotiations on the days when classified bargaining team members took vacation to be there. The classified staff reported that OSU proposed to take back virtually every non economic work benefit as well as scale back wages. These efforts by OSU and OUS administration in conjunction with recent legislative cuts the public employees retirements represent a gutting of wages and benefits for Oregon public employees. Grad assistant bargaining team members reported that OSU had simply said 'No' to their every insurance proposal. CGE bargaining team representatives told how OSU vacilated between encoraging the grad assistant to request bids for health insurance from carriers, to insisting that OSU could not purchase insurance for its employees. They indicated that their most recent proposal, a health insurance trust was met with ambivilance. It was also indicated that the university might be violating collective bargaining law by directly pressuring individual employees to support the university mandating the conditions of their individual health insurance. It was reported by the grad assistants that OSU administration had refused to discuss such infringements at the bargaining table. The grad assistants said they modeled their trust proposal like their co-workers 45 mins down the road at the UofO. Grad assistants at OSU are the only grad assistants on the West Coast not to have health insurance as a condition of their employement. OSU expects its grad employees to purchase health insurance out of pocket, and after student fees pays its graduate assistants less than any of its comparitor institutions and less than any other PAC-10 school. OSU is the only school in the PAC-10 not to provide graduate assistants fully paid health insurance benefits as part of status as employees. After hearing from their bargaing teams the lively crowd picked up picket signs and nosie makers. They practised a few chants, and headed down the street towards the administration building. To several in the march, the chants were music to their ears. Yet when the rally goers marched to Interm President Tim White's office on the 6th floor of the administration building, they heard what many couldn't believe. Interim president White said all grad employees 'have it tough'. White said thats what grad school "is about". White indicated he was a grad student once. He said his wife hires grad students in her lab. He said he was familar with the challenges of being a graduate student, but he would not commit to providing graduate assistants with health insurance. White (who earns $200+ K/yr) said he was supportive of the idea, but said it was out of his hands. He said it was a matter to be decided by the board of higher education. Many in the crowd were skeptical, but remained hopefull when OSU vice president Mark McCambridge promised that the grad assistants would recieve a new counter proposal to their recent health insurance proposal at the next bargaining session. When asked if the classified employees would have the simply respect of being offered an economic proposal at all after 5 months of bargaining, they were told "I don't know." Having impressed on White and McCambridge the importance of OSU admin respecting their employees and providing for their health, the marchers left the building with chants of "We'll be back."
As a followup, the graduate employees most recent newsletter mentions that the OSU grads did recieve a proposal at their next bargaining session. It was a typed-up version of their previous hand-written one.