Myths and truths: Bargaining and strike preparations

The last time the University of Oregon had a labor union strike, Bill Clinton was president of the United States. 

Fast forward 19 years and members of the Graduate Teaching Fellows Federations intend to strike on Tuesday, Dec. 2, if a contract agreement is not reached in mediation. As campus prepares for the possibility, here are some misconceptions that have become evident across campus.

Myth: Other UO employees have the paid leave benefits the GTFF seeks.

UO employees who work half time or more, including faculty, officers of administration and represented employees, have paid leave benefits and accrual of sick leave. All academic employees, including faculty and adjuncts, who work less than half time do not have paid leave or accrual of sick leave. As researchers and instructors in classrooms, GTFs are most similar to these employees. The GTFF seeks weeks of paid leave, not accrued sick leave. 

To address concerns about leave, the university changed its offer during mediation to include two weeks of guaranteed flex time for GTFs with a qualifying family or medical need, with the potential to take more time away and make up any missed work over three to nine months, depending on their individual situation. It was rejected.

Myth: Faculty were excluded from planning for end-of-term activities.

Faculty members continue to have academic control over their classes and may choose how to plan for end-of-term activities. There is an Academic Continuity Plan in place to provide faculty tools and options to ensure that end-of-term academic activities continue. Finals will occur and grades will be entered to complete the term.

Doug Blandy, senior vice provost for Academic Affairs, points out that the coping strategies presented in the Academic Continuity Plan are options, rather than directives, and should be tailored to each individual situation. All measures are to be decided in consultation with department heads and faculty.

Myth: Grading can be delayed during the strike and faculty can instead enter an X, Y or I grade entry.

That is not the case. There is no simple automated administrative solution to a potential grading backlog.

In earlier stages of preparation, university leaders believed that “X” grades might be a viable solution; however, upon further investigation with the registrar and financial aid staff, it was determined that “X”, “Y” and “I” grades would be viewed as non-passing grades for financial aid purposes.

Jim Brooks, director of Financial Aid and Scholarships, says any non-passing grades may impact a student’s eligibility for the aid they received, and possibly for aid in subsequent terms.

“Student aid funds are disbursed to students at the beginning of each term in anticipation that they will pass that term’s coursework,” Brooks said.” It is important that a student’s grades accurately reflect their academic performance.”

For financial aid purposes, an “X” grade is considered a non-passing grade. Further, in certain circumstances, federal regulations require that the university return federal student aid to the U.S. Department of Education for non-passing grades. Moreover, some students with “X” grades would lose eligibility for their winter term aid. Any “X” grades need to be cleared manually by faculty by using DuckWeb.

A “Y” grade is issued by the instructor and indicates that there is no basis for a grade. This might be the case if a student did not attend any classes or complete any assignments, for example. In many cases, fall term financial aid would need to be returned to the Department of Education for courses in which “Y” grades were issued. Additionally, if a student receives all “Y” grades for a term, s/he may be deemed ineligible for financial aid for the following term. 

The existing policy on issuing an “I” or “Incomplete” remains in effect. That is, an “Incomplete” may be issued when the quality of work is satisfactory, but some minor, yet essential requirements have not been completed for reasons acceptable to the instructor. When an “I” grade is given, the faculty member and student should develop a contract outlining the requirements and specific deadlines for making up the work.

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As for the UO’s last strike, it was in 1995 by members of SEIU. It was resolved in less than a week.

By Julie Brown, Public Affairs Communications