The Graduate Teaching Fellows Federation (GTFF) is a few days from a potential strike against the University of Oregon. As reported by The Register Guard this morning in Eugene, mediation has failed. The strike date has been set by GTFF as December 2.
This past summer, the American Association of University Professors at Portland State University neared a strike. Rallies with several hundred supporters, especially students, took place before a deal was reached.
No public employee union in higher education has gone on strike since the collective bargaining act went into law in the mid-1970s (read our history of strikes). So, there’s reason for skepticism there will be one here. But the University of Oregon has put out the call for replacement workers/scabs to replace GTFF should there be a strike. That would lead to campus mayhem. According to the GTFF, they teach about 1/3 of all courses. The U.O. professors themselves just formed a union, and actions in support of GTFF from the faculty could be expected. And from a distance, at least in the Register-Guard, both sides seem fairly close to each other on compensation & benefits. A deal within the next few days is conceivable.
But whether there is a strike or not. the GTFF bargaining crisis points to a growing problem across higher education that’s been building for decades: reducing the number of hired faculty in favor of cheap reliance on part-time faculty, lower-level faculty, and graduate students to keep the colleges and universities running. Many of these instructors get no health benefits, no paid leave, and do not get a livable wage.
As higher education relies on graduate students and low-level faculty more and more, in lieu of providing more stable regular faculty jobs, it’s natural for graduate students and low-level faculty to realize the amount of power they have and to begin demanding fair wages, benefits, and working conditions. Whether a strike happens at the U.O. next week or not, this problem is growing and will require more attention soon on local and national levels.
The Chronicle of Higher Education: “University of Oregon Draws Criticism for Response to Threatened TA Strike”
The GTFF has a Facebook Page that does a good job of putting faces and stories to the work going on, and also has a website. Its recent video featuring members “Why Am I Ready to Strike?” is worth a watch: