Oregon State University’s Coalition of Graduate Employees is a University-recognized Union and protector of graduate student rights – well, some graduate students, anyway. As it now stands, the CGE represents over 900 graduate research assistants and graduate teaching assistants working on OSU’s campus. Thanks to the CGE, they receive contractual assurance that their health care and pay rates will not be threatened. However, the remaining 700 unrepresented graduate students have no such guarantees – they have no protection from workload issues, and have no access to a legal grievance process should they have complaints about employer or safety issues.
In practice, all graduate research assistants and graduate teaching assistants perform the same types of duties. All graduate students benefit OSU by directly contributing to the education of undergraduates and other graduate students, and by doing research that leads to funding for their advisors and for OSU. Currently, departments within OSU subjectively determine whether or not the work of their graduate students benefits the University such that the students can be included within the CGE. OSU does not at this time consider graduate students employees, and in reference to the teaching and research work done by unrepresented students claims that, “It is the individual, not the institution, who receives the primary benefit of such efforts.”
The University administration can voluntarily recognize all graduate students as part of the CGE at any time as is the case at many other institutions, including the University of Oregon, but OSU refuses to discuss the matter directly with the CGE. Instead, the University’s continual objections to this effort have prompted legal hearings between the CGE and OSU.
“There’s nothing fundamentally different in the jobs we’re doing. We’re all working for the University, we all get a paycheck with taxes taken out, we all get employee health insurance as employees, we all provide service to the University – whether you’re teaching and directly interacting with undergrads, or whether you’re researching and you’re working on a grant that’s bringing in significant amounts of money that helps the continued funding and support of the University’s mission,” says Mindy Crandall, an OSU graduate student and President of the CGE. “We want all employees to be the same; all employees should be covered by the contract, and all employees should have Union representation.”
The CGE is currently waiting to hear from Oregon’s Employment Relations Board as to whether or not graduate students are considered employees. OSU student and employee support for Union representation of all graduate students is exceptionally high, and the CGE will hold an election this fall among unrepresented graduate students to determine whether or not a majority wants inclusion within the Union. Keep an eye out for updates on the progress of Mindy Crandall and the CGE, and support their efforts to bring equality to the graduate student population of OSU.
By Genevieve Weber