Bargaining Student FAQ

1.  Will the Graduate Researchers United contract destroy graduate education at OHSU?

  1. The GRU contract is written by, negotiated by, and ultimately approved by graduate students. If management proves that anything in the contract threatens the school, we will stop pushing on these issues. We have no motivation to destroy our own degree-granting programs. 

2.  Will we lose our NIH funding if graduate students are considered employees?

  1. We’ve been considered employees since Fall 2018, when the Oregon Employment Relations Board certified our union, thereby certifying graduate researchers at OHSU as employees. So far neither the NIH nor any other funding agency has raised concerns about this change in status. 
  2. For fellows receiving NRSA funding, the NIH policies say that the fellowship is not proof of employment.
  3. NIH fellows are allowed to hold additional research employment at their institution.
  4. GRU is not interested in jeopardizing NIH funding.

3.  What about W-2s?

  1. The current disagreement is over W-2s, and whether giving graduate researchers W-2s would jeopardize NIH funding. We have closely read NIH Grants Statement (which pertains to individual NRSAs) and (pertaining to training grants) and believe the NIH does not prohibit an institution from giving those on F or T grants W-2s. The Management team disagrees.
  2. The NIH states “The interpretation and implementation of the tax laws are the domain of the IRS and the courts. NIH takes no position on what the status may be for a particular taxpayer, and it does not have the authority to dispense tax advice” - NIH Grants Statement and
  3. This leads us to believe that the NIH will not pull funding over the tax form provided to GRs.
  4. It is possible to give some GRs W-2s, and others 1099s (for instance, UW Madison does this depending on funding sources). We have proposed this as a compromise with management, which they rejected. 
  5. We have no interest in losing our funding or losing our mentor’s funding. That would be devastating to our careers, as well. 

4.  Will we lose accreditation if graduate students are considered employees?

  1. We’ve been considered employees since Fall 2018 and there hasn’t been any issue.
  2. None of the universities with student worker unions have lost accreditation.
  3. University of Oregon has been unionized since 1977 and they haven’t lost accreditation. 
  4. GRU is not interested in jeopardizing accreditation.

5.  Who is going to pay for increased stipends?

  1. That is still subject to bargaining. Management seems interested in pushing these costs onto PI grants as is currently done, but nothing prohibits these costs from being covered by the school or hospital.
  2. Other universities give PIs a percentage of the overhead taken from PI grants to use to cover school costs. We are interested in negotiating a contract that meets the economic needs of our members without posing undue burdens on faculty, but ultimately our power is limited to our own relationship with the university. 

6.  Why is bargaining taking so long?

  1. We hear you! We have no control over how quickly the management team counters our proposals. We have given OHSU’s management team our entire proposed contract but have received few substantive counter proposals. It took management over four months to counter most of our economic articles. If you would like management to move more quickly, you can reach out to them at this email: [email protected]
  2. It’s in our best interest to get a good contract ratified for our members as quickly as possible.

7.  Graduate school is training, how can it be considered employment too?

  1. We don’t dispute that we are being trained, however in the process of training we also perform work that benefits faculty and the university.
  2. In 2012 the graduate union at OSU and OSU went to court to settle this question. The court found in favor of the students, agreeing that dissertation work can be both training and employment. The court stated: “that it is possible to be both a student and an employee. Nothing in the statute suggests that the two are incompatible, and we are not inclined to create such a distinction or carve out an exception where the legislature has not done so.” The entire case can be found by searching EMPLOYMENT RELATIONS BOARD OF THE STATE OF OREGON Case No. UC-04-12 .
  3. This means that although personal feelings about this question may vary, the legally binding precedent is clear.
  4. Every job involves training of employees to some degree.

8.  Why does it matter what is defined as work vs. what is defined as education?

  1. If something is defined as purely academic, then it is a permissive subject and we cannot guarantee that it will become part of our contract.
  2. We care about this because it means we can’t protect our members from abusive situations if those situations are considered “academic.” 
  3. Currently, management claims that dissertation work is purely academic. They refuse to acknowledge the employment aspect of our research projects, even though this has been established in the OSU case (see point 7) and is recognized by other universities nationwide. If dissertation work is not considered employment, then that work is not protected by the contract. Thus, if a student performing dissertation work was subjected to unsafe or abusive conditions, they would not be able to grieve the mistreatment.

9.  Aren’t there already systems in place for reporting unsafe working conditions, harassment, or abuse?

  1. Although the systems in place have worked for some graduate students at OHSU, the vast majority of our members who have tried to use them have found them slow and ineffective. We are trying to create a system that we can all trust.

10.  Some mentors will always behave poorly. How does a union contract solve that?

  1. It is all of our duty to do everything we can to handle the people who “always behave poorly”. Our voice has never been heard in this struggle before now. 
  2. Lack of enforcement or adherence to current rules shouldn’t be a reason to not create new safety mechanisms.
  3. The Union can both protect a graduate researcher from being mistreated by establishing legally binding rules of conduct via a contract, and it can redistribute power in a way that incentivizes people to come forward and report unsafe situations by lending assistance through the grievance procedure.

11.  Will unionization hurt the mentor-mentee relationship?

  1. No one wants to harm the mentor-mentee relationship, and we hope that graduate researchers and faculty alike can continue to foster these relationships in a healthy manner regardless of the final contract.
  2. Case studies show that following unionization, faculty do not feel that their relationship with GRs have been inhibited. In fact, if there is any effect on the mentor/mentee relationship it is positive (Hewitt, 2000; doi 10.1177/001979391306600208).
  3. A well-written contract will correct for bad mentors while still empowering good mentors.

12.  Am I allowed to talk to my mentor about the union?

  1. Yes, you as an individual are allowed to talk to your mentor about the union and issues you care about. But, you don’t represent the union as a whole and all final negotiation must take place at the bargaining table. 

13.  Is my mentor allowed to talk to me about the union?

  1. You have more protections than your mentor when it comes to conversations about the union. As a manager in a position of power, your mentor may only start a conversation with you about the union if their intent is to distribute facts about the union. They may not encourage or discourage you from joining the union. But, if you initiate the conversation, you may ask for their opinions and engage in a more casual discussion.
  2. Your mentor is technically a manager, so they cannot “dominate, interfere with or assist in the formation, existence or administration” of our union (ORS 243.672(1)).