University of Oregon Graduate Employees Vote to Authorize Strike

Members of the Graduate Teaching Fellows Federation voted 97% in favor of strike authorization.
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Updated on November 10, 2023
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  • Graduate employees at the University of Oregon voted 97% in favor of strike authorization.
  • Around 90% of members participated in the vote.
  • Workers' demands include increased wages and better working conditions.
  • A strike could be called after a mandatory 30-day cooling-off period.

Graduate employees (GEs) at the University of Oregon (UO) have voted overwhelmingly in favor of authorizing a strike if an agreement is not reached with the university.

The graduate employees include graduate teaching fellows and research assistants. They could strike in a matter of weeks — as soon as a mandatory 30-day cooling-off period has passed.

The over 1,500 employees are represented by the American Federation of Teachers (AFT) as the Graduate Teaching Fellows Federation (GTFF). Around 90% of members voted on the strike authorization between Oct. 27-Nov. 3, with 97% of the voters approving it, according to the union.

"This vote sends a very clear message that our members are not willing to tolerate the financial precarity that UO wants to perpetuate for another three-year contract," GTFF President Leslie Selcer said in a press release. "We can’t live like this. UO must bring us fair wages that reflect the value of GE labor and years of dramatic increases to the local cost of living."

Major demands include increased pay, improved working conditions, and more support for parents and international graduate employees.

Negotiations with the university reached an impasse Oct. 19, and the union entered a 30-day cooling-off period, mandated by Oregon's Employment Relations Board. A strike, or an offer of a final contract, could happen as soon as the period has passed.

University of Oregon officials did not immediately respond to a request from BestColleges for comment.

'Not a Single GE Makes a Living Wage'

One of the proposed changes to the contract would be an increase in graduate employee salary, not just to match the pace of inflation, but to ensure employees make a living wage.

According to the union, GEs are severely underpaid, with inflation and cost-of-living increases making it impossible for employees to make a living wage.

GTFF argues that the university has the resources to prioritize GE salaries if it chooses to do so, citing publicly available data that the university's revenues have outperformed how much it spends for the past couple of years.

The union also emphasizes that the university chooses to invest in high salaries for administrators and coaches at UO, instead of employees who are responsible for the running of the school day to day.

The graduate studies website says that the GE program, which includes approximately 1,500 graduate students, is allotted $45 million per year in support of salary, tuition, and other fees. In contrast, the UO football coach's six-year contract is valued at $45 million, according to the Daily Emerald, an independent student-run paper.

GTFF’s final offer includes a 13% salary increase the first year, 8% the second year, and 6% the third year across the board, compared to a 3.5% increase offered by UO for the first year, followed by a 2.75% increase the second and third years.

UO also offered a 10.25% increase to the minimum GE salary the first year followed by 3.75% raises in the second and third years, compared to 21% offered by GTFF for the first year with 12% and 8% raises following in the second and third years, respectively.

The current pre-tax, monthly salary of a University of Oregon graduate employee hovers around $1,800 per month.