GAU Bargaining Blog: Update #3

The Good News:

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!

Contract Reorganization

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.

Non-Discrimination, Reporting Overworking

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.

The Not So Great News:

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.

Blog Logistics

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

GAU Bargaining Blog: Update #2

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.

Job Descriptions

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 Letter Deadlines

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.

GAU Bargaining Blog #1: Negotiations have begun!


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!

Opening Statement

“Good afternoon.

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.”

 What we need out of this year’s negotiations - directly from our members and blurred for their protection.

What we need out of this year’s negotiations - directly from our members and blurred for their protection.

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 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.”