Myths and truths: The financial impacts of contract negotiations

The Graduate Teaching Fellows Federation intends to strike on Tuesday if a contract agreement is not reached in mediation.

As campus prepares for the possibility of a strike, here are some misconceptions about the financial impacts of contract negotiations.

Myth: The UO can afford to give the GTFs paid leave.

While the university can offer GTFs flex time to accommodate the need for two or more weeks of time off and a financial hardship fund to lessen financial pressure due to medical emergencies or the birth or adoption of a child, the UO can’t offer paid leave. It leads to equity issues, related not only to paid family leave but also to other benefits for part time employees. To offer uniform benefits to all part-time employee groups, the cost would be in the millions, which the UO cannot afford.

Myth: The UO has a budget surplus of $65 million and can use that money to provide the GTFs paid leave.

The UO does not have a budget surplus of $65 million. In FY15, the university is projecting that revenue – mainly coming from student tuition and fees for the Education and General fund – will just cover projected expenses. See information from a recent Board of Trustees meeting for more details.

“Projected recurring cost increases, such as salary increases, must be covered by projected recurring revenue streams,” Jamie Moffitt, vice president for finance and administration, said. “Recurring costs, such as salary increases, cannot be covered with one-time funds.” 

More than 80 percent of the projected expenses for FY15 in the Education and General Fund are related to labor costs mainly driven by salary increases, retirement benefits and health insurance costs.

According to Moffitt, the university is working hard to manage its resources prudently to keep student tuition increases as low as possible because more than 80 percent of the E&G budget is funded with student tuition, and increases in labor costs will lead to increased student tuition costs and student debt levels. 

Myth: The UO is the only university of its kind that does not provide paid leave to their GTFs.

Neither Portland State University nor Oregon State University offer paid leave to their graduate assistants. Of the university’s AAU peer set, six provide paid leave which varies from 3.5 days to 6 weeks per year. However, most of these — all but two, in fact — provide no insurance support for their graduate employees’ families.

While the UO does not offer paid leave, the UO covers 95 percent of the cost of health insurance for each GTF and his or her full family. This benefit, which costs the UO up to $12,423 per year per employee in premium support, represents a significant UO investment in GTFs and their families. See a chart for more information.

In mediation, the university offered to establish a continuing $150,000/year financial hardship fund for all graduate students and graduate teaching fellows. The fund, which would be administered through the Graduate School, would permit graduate students to apply for grants of up to $1,000 for medical emergencies and $1,500 for needed financial support related to the birth or adoption of a child.

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By Julie Brown, Public Affairs Communications