We are finally talking dollars, friends.
Dental is on the table.
Raises are on the table.
Retro pay is on the table.
We will update as soon as we are able.
We are finally talking dollars, friends.
Dental is on the table.
Raises are on the table.
Retro pay is on the table.
We will update as soon as we are able.
We have two sessions to recap with you in today’s blog post. Hold onto your hats, we have a whirlwind of progress to report!
We have come to an agreement on the Working Conditions section of the contract in full. Take a deep breath, as this article covers a wide swath of your working experience as a graduate assistant.
Materials and Resources: In addition to what’s already covered (access to a printer/copier, storage, course, research or administration supplies, and a mailbox) you will now be entitled to desk copies of teaching texts, software approved by your supervisor to conduct research or grade assignments, and will be reimbursed in the event you are asked by your supervisor to purchase lab supplies and/or classroom materials for your assistantship.
Stronger Excessive Workload Protections: While you are not supposed to work more than 20 hours per week as a full time GA, many of us are frequently and consistently asked to do so. The contract now clearly states that No member of the bargaining unit shall be required to consistently work more hours than their contract stipulates.
External Employment: The university, your supervisor, and/or your department may not prohibit you from external employment if you are a domestic student unless it directly interferes in your progress towards your degree.
NEW! Training: Guarantees your right to be trained by your department for your position Departments and/or supervisors are expected to provide appropriate initial and continuing training for all Graduate Assistants as appropriate to their duties.
NEW! Holidays: You may be asked to work over holidays if you are deemed essential by your supervisor, (ex: you have live, ongoing animal experiments, your samples will be ruined, etc.) Otherwise you will not be required to work on a holiday, and will not be required to make up those hours in subsequent work weeks.
We also came to an agreement on the clause that allows GAU to meet with members without intimidation or discrimination.
When we started researching peer institution contracts for this round of negotiations, we noticed that many Grad Assistant unions have a preamble that frames the intention of the agreement and thought that would be a wonderful way to start our contract, too. We are happy to report that the following preamble was tentatively agreed to at our last session:
The intent and purpose of this Agreement is to promote the quality and effectiveness of education and research at the University of Rhode Island, hereinafter referred to as the University, and to maintain high standards of academic excellence in all phases of instruction and research at the University. The parties hereto concur that these objectives can best be achieved by means of amicable adjustment of matters of mutual interest. It is recognized by the parties that mutual benefits are to be derived from continual improvement in the position of the University as an institution of higher learning; that effective and harmonious working relationships between the Council and URI GAU are necessary in order that the cause of public higher education may best be served at the University; and that orderly, just, and expeditious resolution of issues which may arise as a result of the provisions of this Agreement are in the best interest of the members of URI GAU, the student body, the University, and the public which supports it.
If you are disciplined, you are entitled to receive a written statement of the reasons for disciplinary action. You may also appeal the decision to discipline you through our grievance procedure. This is a HUGE gain for GAs, who up until now could be disciplined without a written record and without any avenue to appeal. This new language ensures that disciplinary action is transparent, and must be accompanied with clear reasoning. You have a right to appeal if you believe the disciplinary action to be improper.
We struck subjective language that requires you “be careful” regarding material that could be “controversial” or “unrelated” to the subject area you are teaching, reducing anxiety over who decides on exactly what is appropriate for your classroom, regardless of their familiarity with the subject and your teaching style.
If you get sick and are out of work for more five days, your leave should be documented with the office of Human Resources. We’ve included this to protect your private health information, where desired, from the blurry boundary of personal/professional we sometimes hold with our advisors.
Lastly, from now on, all contractual benefits that you are entitled to (health care, parking, HOPEFULLY, DENTAL/VISION insurance) will live on the grad school’s website, and human resource’s website will point to them. What benefits would you like to see linked on the grad school’s website?
Our next negotiating session is on April 5, and we’ll be going in for a LONG, 4 hour session where we will finally begin to discuss financials. Specifically, we’ll begin by discussing parking/transportation, followed by one of our most important proposals-- DENTAL and VISION INSURANCE. Do you need dental/vision insurance? Send us a message and tell us all about your experience as a GA without having access to this essential resource. We’ll bring your stories to the table and share them with the council so they hear you loud and clear: Grads need EYES AND TEETH!
Greetings, friends and colleagues!
Despite mother nature’s apparent objections, we are making significant progress at the negotiating table. Since we last updated, we’ve had FIVE sessions- Jan. 24, Jan. 29, Feb. 6, Feb. 14, and today’s session. We’ve been busy, busy, busy, and making gains at the table for all GAs here on campus.
As of our session with the council on March 1, we have secured tentative agreements on Working Conditions and Terms of Appointment, expanded the Non-Discrimination Clause, established official Personnel Files, and more. We also have some info to share regarding our access to URI’s UPASS pilot program, and had the opportunity to highlight a number of your concerns to Campus Safety and Security related to transportation for those of us living in Grad Village and working at Independence Square.
Working Conditions and Terms of Appointment
BIG NEWS! The council has tentatively agreed to substantial improvements to the article related to Working Conditions. The new language insures that you will know what your duties are BEFORE you begin working, will be notified of your assistantship well in advance of the start of the semester whenever possible, will be provided proper training on teaching and on any special equipment you may need to use, and also ensures you will be reimbursed for any out of pocket expenses for lab materials, course readers, and other essential equipment so long as your supervisor approves. proper notification, training, and resources for all assistants. We have also finally secured clear language in the contract that explicitly states you cannot be prohibited from having a second job off campus, so long as you do not have visa restrictions or are failing to make progress towards your degree.
Once our contract is ratified, it will now articulate that GAs cannot be discriminated against based on citizenship. The council was satisfied that our proposed language aligns with any State or Federal legislation.
The Council agreed with our principle assertion that there should be a single location where Graduate Assistants can find information pertinent to their employment. The Contract will now stipulate that Human Resources maintain files that include employment-related documents such as letters of appointment, descriptions of duties, and evaluations. This means that information that previously had to be rounded up from a variety of sources such as academic departments, the graduate school, and even our supervisors will be centralized and easily accessible.
Transportation and Safety
As you may have heard, undergraduates on campus have been able to get a free RIPTA bus pass in lieu of a parking pass as part of the university’s U-PASS program this academic year. Unfortunately, grad students weren’t included in the pilot run of the program. . The University hopes to extend access to the entire campus community as part of an extension of the contract with RIPTA in the near future. This will provide greater accessibility, especially for folks coming in from Providence. As for the buses linking Bay Campus to Main Campus, the university will include extensions of this service in U-Pass negotiations between URI and RIPTA. The Flex bus will also be included in their negotiations.
Shuttle access and safety at grad village were also discussed. Many of our concerns about grad village seemed to be coming to the administration’s attention for the first time. The Department of Transportation is scheduled to do repairs on 138, which will provide a safer crossing from Grad Village to the campus. The University also agreed to lobby for more bus and shuttle service. As for the cost of a shuttle pass, when we asked about waiving the cost for Graduate Assistants, the representative responded “I’m in favor of increasing the stipend.”
As for providing safe access to and from Independence Square, we learned that the Department of Environmental Management plans to extend the bike path to that area, which will provide a much safer walking route from Independence Square across campus to Plains Road.
Our next negotiating sessions will be on March 13th and March 21st. We’re looking forward to finishing up the language portions of the contract this month, and will (hopefully) be looking at financial proposals come April. Our goal is to be wrapped up by the end of next month. Stay tuned!
Hello again! We’re back with another update from the negotiating table. We’re going to recap three sessions from break, Jan. 9, Jan. 14, and Jan. 16.
In general, we made progress in discussing our goals for a better contract these last three sessions. We’ve covered articles from our non-discrimination clause to description of duties. We’re working on getting more things agreed upon and off the table, but in general the other side has a lot of questions, often that someone else at the university needs to answer. We’re looking forward to many things getting resolved soon.
TL;DR - We have talked about nine different proposals (in bold below) over the last three sessions, trading language back and forth across the table, but we all the topics are still open and waiting for resolution.
Wednesday, Jan. 9
Non-Discrimination: Today’s session picked up where we left off on Monday, looking at the contract’s non-discrimination clause. Our proposal includes a few categories previously unmentioned in our contract, specifically pregnancy and citizenship, that affect many of us and are protected categories according to federal law. We want to make sure that it is understood that decisions to keep someone as a Graduate Assistant should not be based on discrimination of these groups. The council understands our desire to include citizenship language that is articulated in federal law into our contract, though we have no agreement yet.
Materials and Resources: We then discussed our proposals on improving access to software that we need for our academic work, which can be a challenge for many of us. The other side of the table agreed to reach out to URI’s Chief Information Officer to clarify what capacity the university has to provide us with the appropriate software to be able to successfully do our jobs.
We also clarified our position with regards to reimbursement for when we have to pay out of pocket for lab supplies, textbooks, and other materials necessary to do our jobs here on campus.
Training: When you started as a GA, did you know how to do your job? Had you ever taught a class, conducted an experiment, or overseen a residence hall? To do your job and do it well, you need to be trained how to do it. We’ve been working with the Graduate School over the last few years to ensure that Teaching Assistants have at least one day of training prior to the start of the academic year, but that training isn’t exactly required, nor does it answer to the needs of non-TA positions. As such, we have a proposal on the table that would allow us to collaborate with the grad school to develop appropriate training for all of us.
Holidays: Article 14 sparked productive dialogue. To this point, we have lost the thread on this conversation over the definitions of “holiday,” “essential,” and “nonessential.” Therefore, rather than focusing on essential vs nonessential, we need to make sure that Graduate Assistants know up front what the expectations are for them to work when it comes to holidays, snow days, over the break, etc. We’ll be coming back to this one at our next session with some ideas to put on the table.
Several logjams in communication seem to have been broken by the end of this Wednesday’s meeting. The council’s representatives seem to better understand the rationale behind our proposals relating to working conditions and leave time, and we are eager to continue the conversation.
Monday, Jan. 14
Conditions of Appointment: To kick off this session, we introduced our compromise to move expectations of when Graduate Assistants would need to work to the description of duties. This would include if there is an expectation of work at night, on weekends, or on holidays and make it clear from the beginning of any position of when you might be asked to come in to work.
Bus passes: It turns out that the UPass program that allows undergraduate students to opt for a bus pass if they choose not to bring their car to campus is a pilot program and that graduate assistants cannot be added to that pilot program at this time. Given this, we are going to come back with a new idea for how to make bus passes available to graduate assistants who do not need parking passes. There is a distinct need for transportation for many students and there are many accessibility issues, especially between our campuses at URI.
Personnel files: We started discussing personnel files in this session and explained more clearly our concerns. We have a legal right to see employment-related materials in our files, but right now most of this is on eCampus (for example, our pay stubs and W2 information). We agreed to continue discussing this at our next session.
Wednesday, Jan. 16
Personnel files: We returned to personnel files at the beginning of this session. Currently, all graduate students have an official file at the Graduate School and departments or colleges may also have a file. At this time, there is not a distinction between our files as students and workers. However, the threat of getting a “note in your file” is real. This is an interesting situation, because legally if we have never seen the note and cannot access the note, it is not supposed to be permissible in disciplinary hearings. The other side seemed surprised that this threat happens as often as it does and began to see our position on why having separate files that we could request access to is useful. We will continue to return to this issue.
Evaluations: Since we were talking about personnel files, we brought up evaluations briefly. We reiterated that many departments are not currently evaluating graduate assistants annually, despite the fact that this provision is already in our contract. Currently some departments fill out an academic progress report for students, but this is also inconsistent.
Length of appointment: We got a counter-proposal from the other side on the possibility of multi-year contracts. We had suggested striking just “up to one academic year” in the clause, which would allow our contract to align with current practice. The concern with this is that funding, whether state funds or grant funds, can change year to year and this could lead to someone being terminated after getting a multi-year appointment. We understand this potential issue and have agreed to come back with new language.
We’ve scheduled another four sessions going into the beginning of February and based on the conversations we’ve been having, we are hoping to close discussions on several of these proposals and begin discussing some of our other proposals.
Watch out for another blog post next week! Our next negotiating session is Thursday, Jan. 24.
Greetings from the negotiating table, brothers and sisters!
We are happy to report that today’s negotiating session we made significant progress on multiple proposals. Read on for the details.
Yesterday, we covered a series of counter proposals that focused on providing all Grad Assistants with clear information about our assistantship when we initially receive our offer letters. More specifically, we discussed what belongs in your offer letter, job descriptions so you know what you are expected to do as a Grad Assistant before you’re in the classroom, lab, or field, who you should be able to turn to with employment-related questions before you start your assistantship, and how far in advance you should be notified that you have secured a job. We also began discussing offering Grad Assistants who do not have or want to drive to campus bus passes in lieu of parking passes. We will continue to discuss this in subsequent sessions.
The council met many of our needs outright, and on the other points, there was more than enough room to engage in fruitful discussions.
Offer Letters (TA’d = tentatively agreed on this session)
The Council agreed that our offer letters should universally meet some basic informative criteria, and we signed a tentative agreement on what that criteria should be. First and foremost, our offer letter should come in a timely fashion. We agreed that every effort should be made to provide offer letters at least one month in advance of the start of the semester, and if you are the instructor of record, you should know you have the position at least three months in advance. Those offer letters should include a point of contact in your department that you can call for questions about your assistantship, a link to our current union contract, information on your health insurance, and tuition and fee information, among other things.
Your offer letter should also include a clear job description so you know what it is you’re signing up for. You wouldn’t believe how many people receive a “description of duties” page that is entirely blank. We agreed that that page must have a number of important pieces of information, and are close to an agreement on the details that should be included. Stay tuned.
Who is your Supervisor’s Supervisor? (TA’d)
Who is in charge of graduate programing in your department? After much back and forth, the council agreed to include a definition for the title of graduate program director. We’ve been looking for a definition for the person in your department who heads up your graduate program, as they are the person you’d go to if you needed to go “above” your immediate supervisor.
Bus Passes for Grad Assistants
We’re sure you’ve heard that undergrads who do not bring a car to campus get a free RIPTA U-Pass. What are we, chopped liver? Not all of us drive, and some of us would prefer not to. Given URI’s efforts to go green and reduce our carbon footprint, it only makes sense to extend this benefit to our members who do not want to drive to campus. Not to mention, we have to use RIPTA ($2 a pop!) to get from campus to Grad Village. This information was entirely new to the Council, and we’re hoping to explore this more deeply in future sessions.
Our next session will be on Wednesday (twice this week!), January 8, 2019 for three hours. Send pizza!
GAU Negotiating Committee
Happy New Years, everyone!!!
As we ring in 2019, we have some great progress to report. We came to an agreement between the council and our team to finally articulate when a GA promotes from level 1 to level 2 to level 3 pay in our contract. Our contract, once ratified, will clearly articulate when we are eligible for a pay bump related to our academic progress. Furthermore, we will then be able to do something about it if we aren’t promoted at the proper time.
Grad Assistants have three levels of pay articulated in our contract. Here’s how you know what your pay level should be, and when you should advance from one pay level to the next:
Level 1: All Graduate students without a Master’s degree
Level 2: Incoming Grad Assistants begin at level 2 pay if they enter the university with a Master’s Degree. PhD grads advance from level 1 to level 2 pay following commencement that follows the completion of 30 credits.
Level 3: Grad Assistants who are PhD candidates advance from level 2 to level 3 at the start of the pay period that follows the certification of their comprehensive exam results by the graduate school verifying the exams were passed, with retroactive pay to the date of their oral comprehensive exam.
We also pushed hard to define a holiday schedule with mixed results, but we remain hopeful we will have clear language on this front soon.
It feels great to be making progress, but we will need to raise our collective voices to secure the rest of our proposed contract improvements. Looking forward to continuing to protect our rights as workers next year. :wink:
Please include a toast for GAU and our negotiations as you celebrate the close of a productive year!
GAU Negotiating Committee
November 30, 2018
Today’s session focused on two main topics: Clear job descriptions/offer letters, and workload.
Job Descriptions/Offer Letters: What is your job title? What are your responsibilities as a Grad Assistant in your department? When should you know what your responsibilities are, and how do you know when you’re successful in your duties? We spent the majority of our time in today’s negotiating session attempting to answer these basic questions about the nature of our work here at the University. We are looking for the University to clearly articulate the basics about your job in your offer letter so you have clear expectations for your performance as a Grad Assistant.
We believe that all GAs should know who our supervisor is before we start the job. We should definitely know what our benefits are and where we can find more information about them. And most importantly, we most certainly should know where we can go if we need help on any issues that may arise as a graduate employee, especially if our supervisor is… less than helpful (Hint: You can ALWAYS come to GAU!). We’re making progress, and look forward to future sessions that get us closer to agreement.
Workload: It should come as no surprise to you that Grad Assistantships vary…. a LOT. Some GAs hold “classic” Teaching Assistantships where they act as support for full time faculty members teaching large lectures by leading recitation sections, grading, meeting with students, and administering exams. Other Teaching Assistants are de facto instructors of record, designing their own syllabi, teaching a course on their own, grading, meeting with students, and acting as a member of the faculty. Some “administrative” assistants work to support their departments in an administrative capacity, others work in residence halls and are on call 24/7. Then there’s Research Assistants, who are often in the lab way beyond 20 hours a week working on both their assistantship and their academic research. How does one differentiate between reasonable expectations for a GA’s workload and overworking with such a wide variance in what is “normal” vs what is too much work? We worked on getting firmer guidelines for workload expectations, and tied this directly back to job descriptions. You should know what kind of hours your supervisor expects you to work.
Our next negotiating session is on December 20th. We’ll report back soon!
So much for a double-session week. Today’s session, our fifth on the calendar, was cancelled. Once again, the Chief Negotiator on the other side of the table was pulled away for another contract and had to cancel our session. We are frustrated, to say the very least.
We need a contract, and we need it NOW!
Our next negotiating session is on November 30th at 2pm.
Stay tuned. We expect to have much to say afterwards.
Brace yourselves, it’s going to be a busy double-session week! Thank you for those who were able to attend Tuesday’s General Assembly in between sessions! Your input and support made our negotiation session go much more smoothly. Your input is truly valuable. This is YOUR contract, after all!
So look, in case you haven’t noticed, our current contract is sort of all over the place. In today’s session, we proposed a fully re-formatted contract as our final “initial” proposal. We’ve grouped similar things together in our final initial proposal, including strengthening some of our legal language to ensure our union is able to continue to be strong in a post-Janus world.
We also discussed in detail the current article on Non-Discrimination, where we proposed further articulation of the rights of new parents, and stronger non-discrimination language related to a GAs political or national identity. We also expanded our article on Consultation with the President regarding complaints about overworking, (now “Involvement in University Affairs”) and included a proposal to allow GAU to attend department meetings to make sure our members and their supervisors know what our rights are. We also proposed adding a new article on personnel files.
Today was our fourth negotiating session so far. We’ve come to the table eager to hit the ground running every time we’ve met, but unfortunately the administration’s chief negotiator hasn’t been present for two of the four sessions we’ve had so far. We’ve of course continued to present our material, and those who have been there on the other side of the table have attentively engaged with us. We have done our best to make progress however possible, but the reality is that our progress will be limited as long as we continue to have the key person on the other side of the table missing. Our negotiating team will be meeting to explore the options we might want to employ to get this contract moving forward at a much faster clip.
A quick note on this blog itself- We are working on creating a summary of all our proposed changes that we’ll color code for a quick reference so you can easily see our progress. We are excited to continue to share an insider view on how negotiations on your contract are unfolding. As always, please reach out to us at any time with your thoughts, your feedback, your concerns, and especially your support by emailing us, messaging us on FaceBook or Twitter, drop in at a General Assembly, join our Department Leadership Council… there are so many ways for you to get involved in this process.
—GAU Negotiating Committee
Over the last two years, we have been working closely with the graduate school and fellow graduate employee unions across the country to identify ways to improve our contract to support clear communication of our responsibilities as workers. On October 22nd, we had the opportunity to present all of our hard work at the bargaining table and advocate for our need for far clearer job descriptions, timely notification regarding whether or not our contract will be renewed for the next academic year, and even better, to strongly demonstrate our support for multiyear contracts.
We believe that all Grad Assistants should have a clear sense of what their job duties are, who they should report to, and what their expectations are so they can be successful in their assistantship. At the moment, many of us receive a missing, blank, or “to be determined” job description addendum when we receive our offer letters. (Did you receive a 3rd page for your offer letter? What did it say? We’d like to hear about it!) with our offer letters. How can you be evaluated on your performance as a GA if you don’t know what you are expected to do? Clearly articulated job descriptions, in writing, would be beneficial both to us and our supervisors.
Offer letters should be provided by a reasonable deadline, whenever possible, so we can plan our next academic year accordingly. No one should have to wait until the last minute to know whether or not they are going to be employed for the following semester. Timely notification allows us to plan accordingly.
We would also like to give our explicit endorsement for departments to offer contracts that last more than one academic year, so long as your description of duties are updated to reflect your current semester’s assistantship.
We look forward to the administration’s counterproposal to clarify funding and terminology as our initial proposal was received with interest and support.
Last Thursday, the GAU negotiating team sat down at the table for the first time to begin collectively bargaining our next contract.
This time we introduced ourselves, established ground rules for bargaining sessions, and set a schedule for upcoming meetings. After our opening statement (see below), we walked through our proposed contract changes and had the chance to explain our primary concerns and interests.
Our dedicated members have worked hard over the last three years to explore and determine what changes to our contract will best improve the working conditions of all Graduate Assistants through meetings, surveys, data collection, and most importantly conversations with so many of you. Thank you for all the contributions!
We look forward to working with all of you to fight for the best possible contract for all Graduate Assistants at URI!
It’s been a remarkable three years since we last came to this table together. Some of our faces are new, some of us have known and worked with each other for many years. Meanwhile, URI has continued to grow and thrive. We are about to have a new research vessel over at Bay Campus. The university receives around 85 million dollars in competitive grants on average each year by URI researchers. The 150 million dollar engineering building is almost done and 68 million dollars in federal research grants come into the university on average each year.
All of this success did not happen in a vacuum. Graduate Assistants have played and will continue to play an integral role in putting these resources to work for the betterment of URI and Rhode Island overall.
Despite our significant contributions to the success of URI, Grad assistants’ stipends still lag behind the cost of living. By any estimate, many grads are stretched to the breaking point to meet our basic needs. Our first paycheck every year is often completely consumed by student fees. An emergency such as auto-repair, illness, or even common dental procedures puts additional pressures on the already strained finances of a typical graduate assistant here at URI.
Our members frequently deal with the additional strain of not knowing what their responsibilities are. The lack of clarity of job descriptions and expectations can itself be anxiety-inducing, but it also allows supervisors, often unwittingly, to bend the rules and overwork assistants.
Whether we are monitoring experiments in labs, instructing undergraduates, providing departmental support, keeping the peace in residence halls, or conducting research in the middle (or on the bottom) of the ocean, our work is an integral part of this university. Our University’s success as an institution is due in no small part to our energy and commitment.
Last night, we had a big meeting with our members to kick off negotiations and engage them directly in the negotiating process, and man did they have a lot they wanted us to say to all of you.”
We read direct quotes during the session. Here is a paraphrased summary of our member’s personal messages:
We are workers helping URI as an institution, we deserve respect and a reasonable quality of living
My stipend is below cost of living and insufficient to cover my basic needs
I need a raise to feed myself and my family
Student fees come directly from my paycheck at a critical time and make starting an assistantship difficult
Financial challenges exacerbate disparities between diverse populations and contribute to discrimination at our institution
Supervisors need to know the appropriate roles and capacity of the assistantships they oversee, and we would like to review their performance anonymously
I NEED VISION
I didn’t know I had a job until after it started
I don’t understand my responsibilities, where my office is, or most of what I need to know to start my assistantship
I NEED DENTAL!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!
“On each of these points, our peer institutions offer significantly stronger benefits and wages to their graduate assistants. We believe the University strives to uphold its academic integrity, and takes its responsibility as a public institution to improve the common good seriously. To that end, graduate assistants at URI must be offered genuinely competitive compensation and benefits that meet their basic needs, or else they can go right up the way to our peer institutions and take their skills and expertise with them. We deserve the same quality of life as other academic professionals at any of the myriad institutions that offer their assistants better, more competitive compensation.
We are happy to be here with you today, and are looking forward to productive, collaborative negotiations over the coming weeks and months.”
Wednesday night we met with members in a general assembly to present our contract proposals and collect suggestions about how to strengthen our ideas for improving our working conditions and quality of life as Graduate Assistants.
Thank you to all the members who shared your concerns and support - your contributions are the foundation of our progress as a union!