Graduate student assistant researchers vie to join union
Research assistants are looking for the same recognition from OSU as teaching assistants
Published: Tuesday, November 13, 2012
Updated: Tuesday, November 13, 2012 02:11
Graduate assistant researchers are combating current Oregon State University practice to gain union recognition from the university.
The Coalition of Graduate Employees, the labor union representing graduate teaching and research assistants, argues there is not any distinction between graduate teaching assistants and graduate research assistants, hoping both will gain union recognition.
It wasn’t until the teaching assistants gained recognition in 1999 that the lack of recognition for graduate assistant researchers became an issue. The campaign began more than a year ago, and the issue was revisited last spring.
The university’s argument goes that the research assistants serve individual professors, rather than the whole university.
However, research assistants at the University of Oregon are represented by their graduate employee union.
The university says compensation paid to research assistants goes more towards an educational end. The research they conduct helps further their degree goals. Teaching assistants however, often assist or instruct classes for their own work, directly benefitting OSU.
“We’re just following the law,” said Steve Clark, vice president of university relations and marketing.
OSU follows state law regarding employment and union representation.
This past spring, an administrative law judge ruled that research assistants were not employees, and were denied union representation. The Coalition of Graduate Employees petitioned the Oregon Employment Relations Board for the final decision.
“We will announce our decision in a few weeks,” said Susan Rossiter, chairwoman of the Employment Relations Board.
The most significant rights to be gained for the research assistants include the right to defend the contract of employees denied union recognition. The university has no legal precedence to compromise for people who were denied union recognition; specific rights and benefits would be secured for the research assistants via union recognition.
The Coalition of Graduate Employees hopes the Employment Relations Board will “recognize that OSU is a research institution that relies on the labor of nearly 800 employees that bring in grant funding and carry out the research on this campus,” said Wren Keturi, president of Coalition of Graduate Employees. “We’ll hope that this recognition will mean that we can go forward with a vote for union recognition.”
Of the research assistants, 65 percent voted to join the union last year.
“They have overwhelmingly decided that union representation is the best way to guarantee fair work and fair terms of employment,” Keturi said. “The bigger issue here though is recognition: The university denies that nearly 800 people doing the research on this campus are even employees with the right to collectively bargain the terms of their employment.”
The Employment Relations Board will make its decision in the next few weeks. For more information about the Employment Relations Board, and the Coalition of Graduate Employees, visit http://cge6069.org.
Amanda Antell, news reporter