27 Aug

Bargaining Update #8

Let us start by saying a huge THANK YOU to everyone who showed up Tuesday to show their support in the hallway outside the negotiating room. It was a great visual for the Administration to see how much each of you care about getting the contract we deserve in a timely manner. Your support was taken to heart by the negotiating team, and helped us to fight especially hard to make sure the Administration heard your needs loud and clear at the bargaining table. Check out the post by Eddy below for more information on the Rally.

We covered three topics (all of which have been discussed in previous sessions) during negotiations on Tuesday: parking fees, external employment, and student fees.

As you might have expected, we spent half of the session discussing a myriad of parking-related issues, including partial parking fee waivers for part-time assistants, streamlining the process for reimbursements, and making campus more accessible for those at Grad Village. We discovered the Administration does not intend to discuss anything related to our parking fee waiver until financials are on the table. Traditionally, non-financial issues are addressed and (hopefully) resolved before financial issues are considered. We will continue all of these discussions during our next session when a representative from parking services will hopefully be present to inform us of the University’s overall plans for parking in Kingston.

We are happy to report that we may have made some progress on external employment. You may recall that in previous sessions the Administration acknowledged our right to have a second, off-campus job for all GAs who are eligible to work outside of the University. However, the Administration’s negotiating team has been hesitant to include protection for this right in our contract. Today, both sides agreed that cleaning up the current language on this topic in the Graduate School Manual and removing the reference to the Swan Memo in our contract could offer an acceptable path forward. Our contract could then cite the Graduate School Manual. This proposed solution would ensure that both GAs and faculty have information on the proper policies regarding external employment available to them. We will be looking over these language changes during our next session.

Last session we discussed the potential for an in-house payment plan (without an enrollment fee) for student fees. This would give you a practical option for paying your fees over the semester instead of being on the hook for the whole bill all at once. It looks like this option may be available as early as this Fall. A representative from enrollment services has been invited to our next negotiating session to provide us with more information. We hope to be able to pass along the details about enrolling in the payment plan after that session.

Our next session is Tuesday, September 1st at 1:30 pm. We are still looking for an additional member to join the GAU negotiating team. Please email us at uri.gau@gmail.com if you are interested in joining us at the negotiating table.

In Solidarity,
Your Negotiating Team
Melissa Burger, Ashton Foley, Danielle Dirocco, and Elizabeth Brannon

24 Aug

Prepare to Rally Against Parking Fees

Join us for the following two events:

Pizza & Sign Making at Roosevelt Hall Room 307 on August 24th at 5:30 pm – 7 pm

Join us for a night of pizza-eating and sign-making! We’ll be preparing materials to support our negotiating team in their negotiation session on Tuesday and to make our voices heard about the imposition of parking fees. Hope to see you there! We’ll also be hosting a conference call at 6:00 pm to strategize for Tuesday’s rally – email us at uri.gau@gmail.com or RSVP to this event for call-in details.

Protest Rally: meet at 12 pm, start the rally at 12:30 pm on August 25th. Location TBD.

We demand respect. It’s time to show our strength in our collective action. Meet at noon on Tuesday, August 25th, to organize. We rally to protest the recent violation of our contract when URI imposed parking fees on Graduate Assistants. We rally to support our contract negotiating team who have persisted in arguing for better working conditions in the face of delaying tactics which have lasted for more than a year. Stand up for your rights. Stand up and rally for each other. Together we will show our university we have a voice and we will not be ignored.

 

18 Aug

Power in the labor movement: Summer Institute Update

Earlier this month, a group of GAU members headed out to the AAUP Summer Institute in Denver, CO.  It was a fantastic opportunity to stand in solidarity with professors and graduate students from around the country.  The conference offered diverse workshops that ranged from student debt to grievance training to negotiation tactics.  The conference environment and AAUP staff were engaging and encouraging; never have I experienced a more welcoming conference.  We also had an opportunity to network with and learn from other professionals facing similar issues that we face at URI.

After my grievance workshops, I feel personally equipped to advocate for my fellow Graduate Assistants.  We engaged in hands-on simulations, offered each other constructive feedback, and left confident in our mission.  All in all, the conference was extremely important for our chapter.  As GAU members, we need the tools and training to constructively and effectively pursue justice in our workplaces. The AAUP Summer Institute offers such an opportunity.

If you are unfamiliar with the AAUP, I strongly encourage that you spend a few minutes on their website.  It is truly an honor to be affiliated with such a legendary and passionate organization.  Their work is a reminder that our work is not in vain; the AAUP is a testimony that power resides in the labor movement.

–Andy Nelson, Political Science

URI-GAU Grievance Chair, 2015-16

14 Aug

CGEU 2015: Training and camaraderie at UMASS Amherst

This past week I had the opportunity to represent Graduate Assistants United and attend the 2015 Coalition of Graduate Employee Unions Conference in Amherst, Massachusetts along with fellow GAU comrades Elizabeth Brannon, Melissa Burger, Hyejung Lim, Erin McLean, and Danielle Dirocco. Prior to attending the conference I was becoming more involved in our union by attending more GAU meetings throughout the semester and updating Graduate Assistants in the business school with progress in the bargaining of our new contract with the University and other problems our colleagues were experiencing. I saw this as an interesting opportunity to learn more about unions, see what other graduate unions across the country were doing, and bring information back to our community to make us a stronger group.

Graduate Assistants from all across the country and even Canada attended this year’s conference. During my experience I was able to sit in on several seminars touching on different topics: using data, organizing, the social movement, utilizing the media, and creative mischief. Through these seminars and discussions, we were able to discuss what has worked and has not worked for other unions and how we can utilize this knowledge on our own campuses. I look forward to discussing these best practices with the rest of our members this school year.

Overall it was a great to make some professional connections, get to know some of our current members better who also attended the conference, and learn more about unions. Next year’s conference will be in California, and I would highly recommend others to consider attending. You can even find our more information about the Coalition of Graduate Employee Unions on their website at www.thecgeu.org. I am also available to answer any questions about the conference if you are considering attending in the future, so feel free to send me an email.

We have a great core of members in GAU and are always looking for more people to be involved, so try to attend one of our meetings this fall for some great conversations and to learn about what the union is doing for you and our community at-large. Looking forward to sharing a successful 2015-2016 school year with the rest of the Graduate Assistants.

Jim Blair

Third-Year Marketing PhD Student

University of Rhode Island

blairj4@my.uri.edu

03 Aug

Bargaining Update #7

Today the Negotiating Committee met with the Administration for another productive round of negotiations, which covered three of everyone’s favorite topics: external employment, student fees, and parking.

The topic of external employment was also addressed last time the Negotiating Committee and Administration met. To refresh you on the topic, many GAs have been told or had it implied that they cannot hold a job outside the University in addition to their assistantship. Please know that it is your right to seek employment outside of the University (Please note: international students must abide by any state/federal laws surrounding their employment limitations under the terms of their Visa). The Administration acknowledges this right, and continues to express an interest and willingness to tackle this issue, but they are still hesitant to add it to our contract. We have heard from you, our members, that inclusion of this in our contract is crucial and we will continue discussions on this topic during the next meeting.

Another topic the Administration seems dedicated to working on is the payment of student fees. We know how much of a burden student fees are, and thanks to the dozens of letters YOU wrote to President Dooley last year, the Administration does, too. Many of us must decide between paying rent or student fees with our first paycheck and that is unacceptable. We are continuing to work on a solution for student fees that involves a payment plan (without an enrollment fee), and hope to have positive news to report on this front soon.

I saved the best for last: parking! Have you seen the latest update from Parking Services? (http://web.uri.edu/parking/gradassistdecal/) The struggle continues, and they now want to charge us for our parking passes! Yes, you are reading that correctly. As of now, if you order a commuter pass you will be charged $100. We immediately brought this to the attention of the Administration, and they agree that this new policy violates our contract, and that the wording in the contract needs to change so this does not continue. The Administration will begin working to resolve the situation immediately, and we will continue to keep you updated.

As always, if you ever have a story you would like to share with us that could help at the negotiating table or any questions regarding your assistantship, feel free to send us an email at uri.gau@gmail.com or you can share your story anonymously here: http://www.urigau.org/share- story/.

In Solidarity,

Elizabeth Brannon

GAU Vice President

01 May

Bargaining update #6

We have reached our first tentative agreement during contract negotiations. Both sides have agreed to strike language that describes Graduate Assistants as apprentices. This change clarifies the nature of our role at this university and updates our contract to modern language. Apprentice language has specific connotations, and removing this language protects you as an employee.

Due to a productive discussion this week, we will be receiving language from the other side of the table regarding informal grievance procedures and stating Weingarten rights in the contract at our next meeting. These Weingarten rights entitle you to have representation in the event you are asked to meet with your supervisor to discuss possible disciplinary action.

More details to come.

23 Apr

Bargaining Update #5

The Negotiating Committee met with the administration for a productive round of contract negotiations this week. A wide variety of issues were covered, but one particularly enlightening outcome from the conversation included clarification of the University’s stance on external employment.

Before  negotiations began, GAU polled our members to determine our bargaining priorities. One of the biggest concerns of our members revolved around protecting the right for Grad Assistants to hold external employment to supplement their stipends. While we haven’t yet reached an agreement with the administration regarding what form that protection will take, the Vice Provost of Academic Finances and Academic Personnel made it explicitly clear that the University, the graduate school, faculty members and/or their departments do not have the right to restrict domestic students from seeking employment outside of the university. (Please note: International students remain restricted from seeking employment beyond what is permitted by their visa.)

The implication of this declaration by the administration is difficult to overstate. Many of you have been pressured to not seek jobs outside the University without risking your funding. A number of our members have had their assistantship withheld when it came to light that they were working a second job. Others have been told that they need to quit their second job to be eligible for an assistantship.  The Vice Provost made it clear: this practice is a fundamental violation of your rights.

If you have experienced this yourself, we need to hear from you. The administration has expressed a willingness to combat this issue, though they have expressed hesitation in codifying this right in your contract. We need your help to press the administration to secure that right in writing. In the meantime, we intend to seek immediate resolution for students who feel they are being prevented from seeking additional work to help pay their living expenses. You have the right to pay your bills and to make adult decisions about how to support yourself and your family without first needing to seek permission to do so from URI.

31 Mar

Bargaining Update #4

During today’s meeting, we began discussing the addition of a new clause to our contract that explicitly permits domestic Graduate Assistants to have a second job outside of the university. As you know, many Graduate Assistants on campus have been told that they cannot hold an additional job while they are working here at URI. This is simply untrue for domestic students, and goes against established policy here at the university. In fact, the Administration expressed that action has been taken in the past when departments have tried to limit students’ right to work outside of the University.  We are asking the administration to be crystal clear in their policy on external employment by codifying your right to work a second job in our contract. We look forward to making progress on this essential issue.

We also revisited the academic freedom clause where graduate assistants are incorrectly labeled as “apprentices” as well as our proposal to extend the grievance timeline to better accommodate the needs of our members. The Administration will be drafting alternative language for the academic freedom clause to reflect the dual role of Graduate Assistants as both students and employees which we hope to examine during our next negotiating session.

As far as the grievance procedure, the Administration has suggested that GAU provide members with additional resources such as the “Discrimination Complaint Procedures” from the office of Affirmative Action to alleviate our concerns that the grievance reporting window is too narrow for those who have suffered egregious offenses such as sexual and gender harassment in the workplace. This particular policy allows 365 days for victims to come forward and file a complaint with the university. We will continue to discuss how to best address our concerns regarding access to the grievance process so that you are protected from abuse in the workplace.

Our next negotiating session will take place on Tuesday, April 21, 2015 at 1:30pm.
06 Mar

Bargaining Update #3

Contract Action Team Meeting Reminder:

The CAT is going strong, and will be meeting on Wednesday, March 11 at 5pm in Swan 201 to discuss our plan of action to address the administration’s proposal to charge you more in student fees. We need to move forward, not backward, on student fees. We want to hear from you, so please make every effort to attend.


Bargaining Update

The Negotiating Committee addressed three main issues during negotiations with the administration on Thursday: the grievance procedure, “unofficial assistantships” and language changes to the academic freedom clause of our contract.

Grievances
GAU has proposed that the administration extend the initial filing deadline for a grievance from 15 to 90 days. It is our position that Graduate Assistants should have more time to report concerns regarding working conditions that violate the contract. Furthermore, we feel that the contract should spell out any additional avenues a Graduate Assistant may pursue to address concerns regarding particularly egregious offenses, such as sexual harassment, discrimination, or retaliatory behavior. The administration’s reception to this proposal was lukewarm at best. Our proposal remains open and will be discussed further in subsequent bargaining sessions.

“Unofficial” Assistantships
We have proposed that the administration incorporate any graduate students performing the duties of a Graduate Assistant into our bargaining unit, as any person working as a Graduate Assistant should be entitled to the benefits we have under our contract. We determined that this issue will best be addressed as an independent contract clause in future negotiations rather than as a part of the Recognition clause as originally proposed.

Academic Freedom: “Apprentice” language
We have proposed that the word “apprentice” be struck from the academic freedom clause of our contract, as it does not accurately describe the position of all Graduate Assistants at URI and is inconsistent with language in other graduate assistant contracts. Our discussion was robust and remains open for further discussion.

Next up

Our next negotiating session will be on Thursday, March 12 at 11 AM. We will continue to discuss the issues above and also begin what we anticipate will be an extensive discussion about your right to have a job outside of the university.

26 Feb

Bargaining Update #2

First of all, thank you to so many of you who wore your buttons in a show of solidarity while we were in negotiations yesterday! We wore our buttons to yesterday’s meeting, and even offered buttons to the administration’s negotiating team.

As many of you know, yesterday (Feb. 24th) was our second session of negotiations. We finished presenting our initial proposals, including our proposal to raise stipends to $20,000 by 2017.

We also received the administration’s proposals which will be examined closely in the coming weeks and discussed at length in future updates. We’d like to bring your attention to one proposal, however, in regards to student fees. The administration has proposed that full time Grad Assistants pay more in student fees by reducing the 20% fee waiver you currently receive to 10%. This would result in you paying an additional $144.20 of your stipend (on top of the $1153.60 you already pay) back to URI.

Join us at the next Contract Action Team (CAT) meeting on ThursdayMarch 5th at 5:00pm in CBLS 100 to discuss the administration’s proposals and how we intend to respond to them.

Our next negotiating session is scheduled for Thursday, March 5th at 1:30PM, where we will begin to discuss changes to the grievance procedure and “apprentice” language in our Academic Freedom clause.