Preparing for the possibility of a Graduate Employee strike

Dear Colleagues,

As many of you know, the Office of the Provost is asking units to prepare for the possibility of a Graduate Employee (GE) strike as part of an "Academic Continuity Plan." To help you with planning, this email provides some information concerning the expectations and obligations of faculty members should a strike occur.

Our Collective Bargaining Agreement (CBA) obliges faculty to consult with the University, if requested, concerning how work performed by a striking employee will be covered. However, nothing in the CBA requires faculty to cover for striking workers. Faculty are only required to consult on how coverage will be managed. It would be incorrect for supervisors or deans to assume that faculty will cover the labor of striking GEs.

While Article 41 of the CBA states that faculty may be assigned to perform work previously performed by a striking employee, it also affirms that any additional work would be treated and compensated as an overload assignment. Any and all overload assignments (detailed in Section 6 of Article 17 of the CBA) are voluntary and to be taken up only at the discretion and agreement of the faculty member. No bargaining unit member may be disciplined or terminated for refusing an overload assignment.

The willingness to cover for a striking GE is a choice only a faculty member can make. We cannot be compelled to take on extra work if we think it would be unreasonable for us to do so.

UA leadership believes that faculty already work full jobs and have full academic and personal lives.

With this in mind, it would be reasonable for a faculty member to decline a request or assignment to cover GE labor if:

Additional work would interfere with their:

  • existing teaching responsibilities, including course preparation for future terms
  • research activities, including travel for projects or conferences
  • service obligations within their unit, school, college, or at the university level
  • family responsibilities or logistics

Additional duties would require:

  • a significant amount of time familiarizing oneself with the content, materials, policies, and Canvas presence of a different course run by another instructor
  • difficult or costly commutes to campus

As faculty, we're dedicated to our students' well-being and success, and we realize that a potential GE strike presents a real risk to students who depend on GE instruction and classroom support. As you think of ways to support your students in the event of a strike, it may be helpful to keep some bigger-picture considerations in mind.

The current contract negotiations are between the GTFF and the administration. For these negotiations to be effective and fair, both sides have to incur some pain in the case of a strike—that's how to ensure a strike only happens in rare, intractable cases. In this case, the GEs will incur the very real pain of not being paid while on strike. The administration will incur the pain of having irate students and parents complaining that they're not getting the education to which they are entitled and of being perceived as not having their administrative house in order. If the administration is allowed to offload the negative effects of the strike onto a third party—the faculty—it has much less incentive to resolve the issues that led to the strike in the first place.

If we cover for the GEs, we undermine their bargaining position—and they are already the less powerful party in these talks. For many, waiting out a long strike will be economically impossible, and they may even be forced to leave school. They are also our students, and we should give them all the support we can. The simple act of posting a sign on your office door with the hashtag #GEsDeserveRespect can help GEs feel supported throughout labor negotiations and actions.

We'll keep an updated FAQ concerning the potential GE strike on our website with more information about faculty rights and responsibilities. We're also happy to answer any questions you have. Feel free to respond to this email or call our office at 541-636-4714.