Bargaining Updates

In 2014 we succeeded in solidifying our rights as employees in a hard-fought contract, with strong language that recognizes, among other things, our right to affordable healthcare, a fair wage, and a safe working environment free of hazards, discrimination, and harassment. That contract expires at the end of the 2017-2018 academic year. This means that we will soon begin fighting for an even stronger contract. On this page, the bargaining committee will keep you posted regularly on the status of our progress as negotiations get underway.

 


LATEST UPDATE

Bargaining update, January 6, 7, and 8,  2018

We had our first back-to-back bargaining sessions with the University over the past few days.  We were able to reach tentative agreement on several articles, where we either made no changes or made only minor changes to existing contract language.  However, we still face major obstacles to making progress as the University continues to propose weakening some key components of our contract, including imposing limits on the rights of survivors of sexual assault or harassment from pursuing all possible avenues of recourse to achieve justice.  See below for more details on our recent sessions.  We also have information about opportunities to help educate the campus community about our bargaining goals during the upcoming week honoring the life of Martin Luther King, Jr., who understood the importance of a strong labor movement to a fair and just society.  Click here if you would like to get involved.
Tentative agreements: We reached tentative agreements on Article 7 (Employment Files), Article 8 (Job Posting), Article 14 (Employee Assistance Program), and Article 24 (Discipline and Dismissal).  We essentially agreed to retain current contract language in these areas, though we did add language in Article 24 clarifying that a paid administrative leave is not in itself disciplinary action.
Challenges on key issues: We approached the most recent bargaining sessions with a sincere desire to reach agreement on Workload, Time Off, and our Grievance and Arbitration articles.  While the University did make a proposal on Time Off for the first time in our negotiations, which was a step forward, we still have a number of issues to work through to agree on that article.  Additionally, despite major efforts on our part to propose constructive ways to resolve the Workload and Grievance Articles, we did not reach agreement.  The University continues to insist on eliminating the right of GAs to take a workload dispute to a neutral, third-party arbitrator and wants to place limits on the rights of a GA who alleges sexual assault or harassment. Their continued efforts to limit GA rights on sexual harassment is particularly disturbing given that they have failed for over two months now to even make a response to our proposal to enhance those rights in our Non-discrimination article.
Upcoming opportunities to educate the campus and broader community: A majority of GAs at UConn approved our bargaining agenda, which aims to improve our lives and to make UConn more inclusive, accessible and competitive.  In that spirit, we look forward to next week as it honors the life and work of Martin Luther King, Jr.  Members of GEU-UAW plan to start sharing information with members of the campus community about our campaign for a fair contract next week.  We will also be spending more time in Hartford, educating legislators about the value our work as GAs brings to UConn and the state of Connecticut.  Given the University’s rigid approach to our negotiations so far, it is clear we will need the support from as many of our allies as possible in order to win a fair contract. If you would like to get involved in any of these activities, please fill out this form.

 


EARLIER UPDATES

Bargaining update, December 27, 2017

In yesterday’s bargaining session, the University gave new counter proposals to our Grievance and Arbitration, and Appointment and Reappointment Notification proposals. While we made some incremental progress on these issues, we continue to be deeply frustrated that the University has failed thus far to make counter proposals on two central components of our bargainingagenda, Time Off, and Non-Discrimination and Harassment, despite the fact that we gave our proposals on both of these issues in early November.  Since we continue to believe that more time at the negotiating table will enhance our ability to reach fair agreement, we proposed two full days of bargaining during the second week of January.  As the University has only been willing to meet for three or four hours at a time, we hope they accept our latest proposal on meeting times.  In order to prepare for the possibility that the University will continue to delay our ability to reach agreement, please encourage all of your colleagues to vote to authorize the bargaining committee to to invoke neutral interest arbitration. Check our website for more information on interest arbitration.

Bargaining update, December 20, 2017
As of our most recent bargaining session on Wednesday, we continue to face several major obstacles to reaching agreement on a fair second contract: the University’s failure thus far to make counterproposals on key topics, such as Non-Discrimination and Time Off, even though we made these proposals in early November; and their unwillingness to commit sufficient time for negotiations.  For example, while we did have a lengthy discussion of their concerns regarding our initial proposal to clarify and improve GA access to Time Off, the University refused to commit to making an actual counterproposal.  Their refusal to make counterproposals on these core issues represents a direct attack on our overall agenda of bargaining enhancements for GAs that make UConn a more accessible, inclusive and competitive institution.  We still believe that if we had more time at the table, and if they invested time in responding to our counter proposals we would make better progress.  Below is a summary of the proposals we did exchange during our session on the 20th.

We made counterproposals on Appointment & Reappointment Notification, Workload, Leaves of Absence and Grievance and Arbitration.  The University gave us counterproposals on Housing and Tax Assistance, as well as new proposals on University Prerogatives and Academic Rights and Discipline and Dismissal.

GEU-UAW Proposals
Appointment and Reappointment Notification-Our proposal aims to strengthen appointment and reappointment notification timing, while allowing the departments to have flexibility in extenuating circumstances. We incorporated language proposed by the university to allow short term GA appointments in rare cases where it would be “impossible” to make a GA appointment before the start of the semester (such as to replace a GA who takes an unplanned leave, or because new funding becomes available after the start of the semester).
Workload-Our counterproposal represents significant agreement with the University’s last proposal, but we do not agree with their proposal to eliminate the right to take workload disputes to neutral arbitration.
Leaves of Absence-Our proposal continues to aim to clarify and enhance the rights of GAs to take leave for sickness, family medical, bereavement, and other reasons.
Grievance and Arbitration-We accepted a one of the university’s proposals to clarify timelines in the grievance process, but maintained our proposal that we have an agreed-upon panel of arbitrators so we can get to a hearing more quickly in cases where we have to arbitrate a grievance.

University Proposals
Tax Assistance and Housing-Rather than make a counterproposal to our Tax Assistance proposal, the University demanded that we withdraw it or they would attempt to eliminate language in our current contract on Housing because they believe they have no legal obligation to bargain over access to university housing as a benefit of GA employment.  As these issues affect international student GAs the most, it is deeply disappointing that UConn seeks to remove them from the purview of our negotiations.
University Prerogatives and Academic Rights-The University made a new proposal adding language to this article in the contract codifying their right to establish tuition, fees, and charges of general application.
Discipline and Dismissal-The University proposed new language allowing the parties to extend deadlines in this article if by mutual agreement.

We bargain again on December 27 and will provide further updates.

November 28, 2017
At our last meeting with the University, we made a bit more progress than previous sessions, but we still have a long way to go in order to get to a fair second contract that reflects the goals a majority of GAs approved as our bargaining agenda. In our meeting, we discussed Appointment Notification, Leaves of Absence, Non-Discrimination, and Workload.  We also made a new proposal on GA access to Tax Assistance, a timely topic given the legislative struggles going on around this issue right now.
In particular, we had more productive conversations regarding Workload, though we still did not reach a full agreement. It is more clear than ever that the more time we have at the table, the more time we have to work through and potentially reach agreement. But we continue to be frustrated at the University’s unwillingness to meet more frequently and for longer sessions.
Here is a short summary of the status of the topics we discussed:

  • Workload—we made progress on our proposals to encourage early identification of major problems, to clarify remedies, and to expedite a resolution, but UConn still wants to eliminate the option of taking an unresolved workload grievance to arbitration, though they have pointed to no compelling reason to remove that right from the current contract language.
  • Leaves of Absence—they have shown little movement on this issue.
  • Appointment Notification—they have shown little movement on either firming up commitment to provide early notification or to strengthen the university’s commitment to longer appointments.
  • Non-Discrimination—we are first and foremost frustrated that, after roughly three weeks, they have yet to make a counterproposal to ours. They said they were weighing our proposal very carefully. We urged them to move more quickly, given the magnitude of the issues involved in this article.
  • Tax Assistance—we made a proposal under which UConn would provide subsidized access to expert tax advice, an issue that would particularly benefit international GAs.

At the end of negotiations, the university proposed that we consider bringing a mediator into our negotiations since we had made such little progress. While we said we would consider this option, we also believe that if the University committed more time to our negotiations we would be able to find ways to reach agreement. Our discussion on Workload went further precisely because we spent more time in the bargaining room, yet the University’s lack of commitment to give us more time at the table is indicative of precisely why are not making greater progress. Considering this, we will hold a vote to authorize the Bargaining Committee the ability to invoke third party interest arbitration if we believe it becomes necessary in order to achieve a fair contract.

November 20, 2017 – A better view of UConn’s unconstructive approach to bargaining
At this week’s bargaining session, we got a disappointing, but clearer, view of the challenges we face in negotiating our second contract with the UConn bargaining team and its outside lawyers.  Consistent with our democratically-approved bargaining agenda, we continued making proposals that aim to improve the GA experience and enhance the University as an inclusive and competitive institution.  Unfortunately, rather than agree to any of our proposals so far, the University proposed to eliminate some of the important rights we won in our first contract.  They also told us they are totally unavailable for bargaining between November 28 and December 20, a huge chunk of time as we approach the end of the semester. While we did not necessarily expect the University to agree quickly to our ambitious set of proposed improvements, we are deeply disappointed that they have already proposed instead to weaken our contract language in some important areas, such as sexual harassment protections and workload.

Perhaps most disappointingly, in the same week that UConn President Herbst wrote to the entire campus community about the University’s commitment to “maintain inclusive and safe learning environments free from these acts [of sexual harassment],” the University’s bargaining team actually proposed establishing new limitations on GAs’ rights to address sexual harassment.  Our current contract allows GAs to pursue allegations of sexual harassment through the university’s internal procedures, through the law and through our union grievance procedure that can be adjudicated by a neutral arbitrator.  Instead of addressing our proposal to enhance these procedures, the University proposed language that would force GAs to choose among those venues, thus limiting options for fair recourse.  Our predecessor bargaining committee fought for months against similar UConn proposals three years ago in order to establish our current contract language.  We expect better from UConn, especially on this important topic. The University also failed to engage the central purpose of our Workload proposal from last session.  While our proposal aimed to encourage early detection and reporting of potential workload problems, especially as we enter the budget crisis, the University ignored that concept and instead proposed eliminating the right to take a workload grievance to a neutral arbitrator, another important right won in our first contract. In this session, we also passed the following three new proposals to the University:

Leaves of Absence- our proposal would clarify this contract article, making it easier for GAs and staff to understand and implement and would improve the amount of leave available.
Housing- We proposed that the University allot a number of housing spaces for first-year graduate employees with the goal of giving new comers, especially international students, the ability to find safe and secure housing near their work-site for a reasonable price.
Parking & Transit- Given widespread GA dissatisfaction with parking at UConn, we proposed expanding the areas for which GAs could purchase discounted parking permits, access to overnight parking for those whose GA work requires such parking and equal parking benefits for GAs at branch campuses, We also proposed that UConn provide a regional bus service connecting all the branch campuses, and a bus service dedicated to connecting Willimantic and Storrs, to aid with the lack of parking as well as to provide a more reliable service dedicated solely to employees who need a timely mode of public transportation from their residence to their work-site.

We understand we have an ambitious bargaining agenda, but are committed to working in good faith to reach a fair agreement with the University that continues to make progress on the issues that matter to GAs.  Given the slow pace at which the University has moved so far, it is increasingly clear that we will need to consider all options to be able to have a new contract in place next academic year.  As such, we expect to be discussing potential actions to make clear our commitment to reach that goal, including the possibility very soon of taking a vote among GAs to authorize the bargaining committee to invoke the interest arbitration process.  In lieu of the right to strike, interest arbitration is a statutory procedure in Connecticut that empowers a neutral arbitrator to resolve bargaining disputes if we cannot reach agreement with the University.  GAs took such a vote during bargainingfor our first contract, though we ended up reaching agreement with UConn before fully entering the interest arbitration process.

Our next bargaining session is on November 28 and we will provide an update at that time.

November 8, 2017
At our last bargaining session on November 8, we made proposals aimed at improving articles in our contract covering Discrimination and Sexual Harassment, Grievance and Arbitration, Tuition and Fee Waivers, and Workload.

  • Discrimination and Sexual Harassment- We proposed an expansion to the protected categories listed in this article and we made a robust proposal to sexual harassment protections, including more specific definitions of what constitutes harassment as well as procedural changes that we believe would enhance the reporting of this problem when it happens and fair outcomes.
  • Grievance and Arbitration- Our proposal would make our grievance process more efficient, both by removing the requirement for an informal step prior to filing a formal grievance (such as when a GA does not feel comfortable talking to their supervisor because the grievance is particularly sensitive) and by speeding up our process for selecting an arbitrator in the eventuality a grievance needed an arbitrator.
  • Tuition and Fee Waivers- We proposed a full waiver of student fees.
  • Workload- Our proposal would further our ability to enforce our workload rights under the contract while maintaining a commitment to quality teaching and research and a balance between our work and studies. For example, we proposed language that would encourage early communication between supervisors and GAs in situations where there are significant changes to the structure of a GA assignment.

Thus far, the University has only made one counter proposal, which came in response to our proposal on Appointment Notification. Unfortunately, they proposed to decrease the amount of advance notification of appointments for GA positions outside of Fall Semester.  We were deeply disappointed in this proposal not just because later appointment offers make it harder to plan our lives but also because they potentially undermine the progress we have made over the years on preventing late pay since late appointment processing was one of the main causes of that problem. When we asked why they thought this change was necessary, the University’s team said they needed “flexibility” even though our proposal already allows flexibility in “exceptional situations” where objective reasons require an appointment after the notification deadline. While we have bargaining dates scheduled for November 20 and 28, the University bargaining team only committed to one additional date before the holiday break, in the third week of December. We proposed a number additional dates in December, as we believe it will take more time to really negotiate a new contract that reflects the priorities outlined by a majority of GAs in bargaining surveys and in our democratically-approved bargainingagenda. We hope that they will accept some of these additional dates when we meet on the 20th.

November 3, 2017
We met with the University bargaining team again on Friday.  We made initial proposals on Appointment Notification, Childcare,  Time Off, and Travel We designed our proposals to improve the current language in the contract in ways we believe would improve our experience as GAs and enhance the quality of our teaching and research work, while also making our university more inclusive, competitive, and accessible. Rather than discuss the merits of our proposals, the University team mostly pointed to the state budget crisis and emphasized that it would not make any counter proposals on economic issues until we had made all of our proposals.  While we are aware of the economic climate in which we are negotiating, we will continue to pursue a contract that reflects the critical and unique value we provide as GAs alongside faculty and other staff at UConn.  If you would like to get involved in helping win a fair contract this year, please send us an email at uconngradunion@gmail.com.  See below for more details about our proposals so far.
Appointment Notification-  As our bargaining surveys indicated some unevenness with timely appointment offers for GA positions, we proposed strengthening the language calling for early notification of appointments and specific assignments, as well as the language encouraging longer appointments.  Timely and longer appointments provide more security so that we can focus more of our energy on doing quality research and teaching.
Childcare- While GAs with children deeply appreciated the establishment of childcare subsidies under our first contract, a large portion of actual costs went uncovered.  So, in order to continue our efforts to enhance family-friendly benefits, we proposed an ambitious increase to our subsidy pool that would maximize coverage of the expenses incurred by GAs with children.
Time Off-  Since some departments and supervisors still tried to deny time off to GAs under our first contract, our proposal would clarify specific minimum amounts of time off for all GAs and help clarify the difference between time off (for personal reasons like vacation or visiting family) and “leaves of absence” (for things like maternity, or sickness).  Fair access to time off allows GAs to visit family, which can involve overseas travel for international students, or attend to other personal needs.
Travel-  We proposed that GAs who are required to work at a campus other than their home campus (e.g. a graduate student at Storrs who is required to teach at Waterbury) are reimbursed for travel costs.  We believe this is a fair proposal for the small number of GAs affected by this unique set of costs and helps achieve equity for the GAs required to work at branch campuses.

October 31, 2017
Thanks to everyone who voted so far on our bargaining goals.  A majority of Graduate Assistants have now endorsed our goals.  While this is a strong first step in this year’s contract campaign, continued participation and support from GAs across campus will be critical to securing a fair second contract with the university. On Halloween, we met with the University’s bargaining team and came to agreement on ground rules for our negotiations. We subsequently presented our bargaining agenda, which focuses on four themes: quality, accessibility, inclusivity, and competitiveness. While the University expressed agreement with some of our conceptual themess, they made no commitment to any of our particular goals and stated we will likely have to work through some obstacles – especially the current state budget crisis — in order to reach agreement. We will have a better sense of how we can expect negotiations to go after our next bargaining session, as we barely began to discuss substantive aspects of our agenda on Tuesday.  But we do know that when we negotiated the first contract with UConn, the participation and action taken by GAs played a critical role in achieving the important improvements we won and we expect this round of negotiations will be no different.