Graduate union files complaint against OSU
Coalition wants access to names of graduate assistants
Oregon State University's graduate student union has filed an Unfair Labor Practice complaint against the university.
The AFT Local 6069, Coalition of Graduate Employees, filed the complaint with the state Employment Relations Board on Wednesday, claiming the university has violated its rights to obtain information on who is eligible to be a member of the union.
Outgoing graduate union president Luke Ackerman said the union filed the complaint because of an ongoing struggle with the university to find out exactly whom the union represents. The university will not release the names and employment information of graduate teaching assistants to the union, claiming that release of such information would violate the Family Education Rights and Privacy Act (FERPA), a federal law which protects student information.
Ackerman said it's nearly impossible to operate as a functional union when it's unclear who its members are. The union only applies to those graduate students who are paid to teach or do research at the university that is not part of their work toward a thesis or dissertation. That distinction can be confusing, and makes tracking students difficult.
The union is in contract negotiations with the university to renew a labor agreement that expired June 30.
The union can't provide the university with concrete estimates about fee collection and other details without knowing who is eligible for membership.
"We're really bargaining in the blind," Ackerman said. "We have to be able to communicate with our members, and we don't know who are members are."
David Shaw, OSU associate director of human resources, said he didn't know about the labor practices complaint, and would not comment directly on it.
However, he said he understands the union's frustration, but has been advised by university legal counsel not to release graduate student employees' names.
"We believe we're in a difficult situation," Shaw said. "Federal law prevents us from releasing such information."
Shaw said the university had been asking graduate students to sign waivers allowing them to release their information to the union, but that the union didn't think it was an adequate solution.
He believes the university bargaining team has now found remedies to the problem, but since they are still in negotiations, he would not comment on what those remedies are.
Ackerman said the university has offered to try and release some of the needed information in the form of directory information, rather than under the label of employment information, to avoid violating the law.
But that plan could be blocked by OSU President Ed Ray or if the Legislature objected to the release of the information.
The union wants OSU to follow the University of Oregon, which had also previously refused its graduate union information on members, but changed its policy when the state Employment Relations Board found in favor of the union.
Shaw said language in UO's collective bargaining case differs from OSU's.
"We don't see it as applicable to our situation," he said.
The union said they've also made little to no headway on their other major bargaining issues, high graduate student fees and fair share, the practice of charging all eligible union members a flat fee to share bargaining costs. So far, Ackerman said, the university has only made packaged offers; that is, they have not negotiated each item separately but rather as a take-it-or-leave-it deal.
The 150-day good-faith bargaining period ends July 28, and mediation could begin soon after. A final offer from the university could be on the table as early as mid-August.
"Graduates could be forced into a contract they did not authorize," Ackerman said. "To have to bargain without basic information puts us in that weak position."
Shaw said that before hearing of the union complaint, he had thought things were going fairly smoothly.
"I thought we were heading in the same direction," he said. "I'm surprised they filed a complaint."
Shaw said he still expects bargaining to continue smoothly and to be resolved shortly.
Theresa Hogue is the higher education reporter for the Gazette-Times. She can be reached by e-mail at email@example.com or by phone at 758-9526.