GAU Bargaining Blog Update # 8

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.