OSU Students to Win Union Representation: State Recognizes Graduate Students as Employees

This month, the Oregon Employment Relations Board (ERB) ruled that all graduate student workers shall lawfully be considered employees, ending a year and a half-long battle for representation of all students between the Coalition of Graduate Employees (CGE) and Oregon State University. As reported by the Corvallis Advocate in June of 2012, OSU considers nearly half of the University’s 1700 graduate students ineligible for unionization within the CGE, Local 6069.

“The decision made by the ERB simply makes all graduate research and teaching assistants with greater than a .15 appointment eligible for unionization by stating that they are public employees,” confirmed Wren Keturi, president of the CGE.

In practice, all graduate students directly benefit OSU by teaching and by performing research. But OSU claimed that the work of unrepresented graduate students benefited only the students themselves, and not the University.

“We’re elated with the board’s decision,” said Keturi. “It has affirmed what CGE has always contended:  that the distinction between GTAs and GRAs made by OSU is arbitrary and that GRAs deserve recognition for the work that they do.”

Thanks to the CGE, unionized OSU graduate students receive contractual assurance that their health care will not be threatened. Unrepresented students currently receive the same benefits as those represented by the CGE, but they have no legal recourse should those benefits be retracted, no access to the grievance process, no voice at the bargaining table, and no protection against workload issues.

“This election will not cost OSU anything in the immediate future, but OSU spent tens of thousands of dollars to try to prevent this election from going forward,” added Keturi. “This says to me that OSU is worried about the power grads will have once they are collectively organized through CGE.”

A positive result from unrepresented students in an upcoming CGE election would mean that the CGE can bargain on behalf of all graduate employees.

“We still have so much more work to do,” continued Keturi. “Right now, we’re entirely concentrated on getting out the vote for this election.”

Election ballots will be mailed to unrepresented graduated students on Feb. 7  and must be received by the ERB in Salem by Feb. 21. [UPDATE on 1-21-13: The on-campus CGE election date is now TBD]

by Genevieve Weber