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April 1, 2004

TA union, University to begin contract negotiations

Negotiations are set to begin in early April for the first-ever collectively-bargained contract for University TAs, RAs, readers, tutors and graders. The students will be represented by the Graduate Student Employee Action Coalition/United Auto Workers (GSEAC/UAW).

The negotiations were scheduled after students voted in March to have the union represent them. Out of approximately 4,500 eligible student appointees, 2,370, or about 52 percent, submitted votes that were counted. Of these, 1,391, or just under 60 percent of those voting, favored the union, while 979 voted no.

The turnout was typical for an election in a relatively large group of employees, said Marvin Schurke, executive director of the state’s Public Employee Relations Commission (PERC), which administered it.

The University had sent out three communications to all eligible students, informing them of the election and providing them with information about the process. “We had one message that was very important that continued through every one of our communications,” said Patti Carson, vice president for human resources. “That message was, make sure your choice is clear. Vote.”

Kristen Intemann, a graduate student in philosophy and a member of the bargaining team, said the union had also sent out a notice of the vote. PERC mailed the actual ballots and tabulated the results.

“We are thrilled with the outcome of the vote,” Intemann said. “It’s been a long time and we’re glad that negotiations are finally going to happen.”

A number of UW graduate student employees had been advocating the right to bargain collectively for four years, and approximately 250 participated in a strike for two weeks at the end of spring quarter in 2001. The University initially opposed exclusive recognition of the union because state law did not permit these kinds of negotiations. Then in 2002 the Legislature passed enabling legislation that both the union and the UW supported.

Eight graduate students will be part of the GSEAC/UAW bargaining team. They include, besides Intemann, Catherine Claiborne, public affairs; Eva Dale, environmental health; Dustin Frame, materials science and engineering; Gorkem Kuterdem, electrical engineering; David Parsons, English; Amanda Rychel, biology; and Nick Velluzzi, geography.

The lead UW negotiator will be Otto Klein, who has served as outside counsel to HR. Assisting him will be labor relations specialist Angela Maher. And because TAs and RAs are academic employees, a number of professors will be on the team as well. They include Ronald Irving, divisional dean of natural sciences in arts and sciences; Russell McDuff, oceanography; David Morris, biochemistry; and Richard Ladner, computer science and engineering. Representing the graduate school will be Gary Farris, administrator. Judy Mims, assistant attorney general, will also be serving on the negotiating team.

“What typically happens in a negotiation is that the union brings a proposal to the first meeting,” Carson said. “That proposal will include a variety of issues or concerns they want to discuss around compensation, hours, working conditions and benefits. The University will listen and ask questions or initiate a broader discussion aimed at learning more about a particular issue.”

After that, Carson said, the University will ask for time to consider the proposal and come back with further questions and responses. The University will also be presenting its proposals to the union and the union will likely ask appropriate questions so that it understands the University’s proposals. The two sides will then work together to decide how to structure the discussions.

Intemann wouldn’t specify what the union would be proposing, saying only that there were “ongoing discussions” about it. Pay and benefits, however, are bound to be part of it, and Carson says the HR team is certainly aware of the importance compensation and benefits play in every negotiation.

“We have done considerable work to see what compensation graduate student appointees receive in other higher education institutions and we truly want to be competitive,” she said. “We’ll be working closely with the Office of Planning and Budgeting, looking at all of the variables and opportunities that we have available in an environment of constrained resources.”

Will graduate student employees be required to join the union? That matter will be negotiated along with everything else, Carson said. If a union shop is agreed upon, students who didn’t join would be required to pay agency fees in lieu of dues.

The contract agreed upon could run for up to three years. Completing negotiations by the end of spring quarter is an objective for both negotiating teams, although there are many variables that can impact the outcome.

“We are negotiating a minimum of 20 agreements with nine different unions during the next six or seven months,” Carson added. “The University has expressed a very real desire to work differently and to develop dialogue with our unions that leads to joint interest problem solving and improved communication. This ultimately sets the stage for an improved day-to-day relationship and a foundation for future negotiations.”