GEO votes, approves contract with 'U'

BY JORDAN SCHRADER
Daily Staff Reporter
Published September 2, 2002

The 2002-2005 contract between the University and the Graduate Employees Organization was approved on Apr. 7 by GEO members and is ready to be signed.

GEO organizers tallied the results of the mail-in ballots sent to members. They voted overwhelmingly to ratify the contract, casting 399 votes in favor and only two against. About 1,000 ballots were originally sent to members.

The University and GEO bargaining teams worked in the following weeks to get the contract signed.

The contract came after five months of negotiations, a one-day walk-out and GEO's threat of an indefinite strike.

Rackham student and GEO member Rachel Meyer said the vote was close to unanimity because the bargaining team addressed the concerns of most groups within the union, including parents, women, minorities and low-fraction graduate student instructors.

"We made significant gains in all aspects of our strike platform," she said.

Despite what they say is an excellent contract, the union will soon be searching for ways to improve it, GEO organizer Mark Dilley said. When contract negotiations start again in 2004, GEO's new leaders will have a new set of goals based on members' priorities, he said.

Dilley said one policy the union may try to change is the LSA rule that limits GSIs to 10 terms of paid teaching at the University.

"When graduate students are teaching, their own work slows down," requiring that they go beyond the maximum time in their studies, he said. Dilley added that GEO has been looking for ways to change the rule for a decade.

Another issue he said the union may address in the future is the unionization of graduate research assistants, which GEO could aid by either bringing them into its membership or working with them to create a separate union.

Despite the potential for more contract disputes during the next round of negotiations, Dilley said he would like his successors to be able to settle the disagreements with the University without resorting to the threat of a strike.

"We'd much rather bargain with the University," he said. "I hope sincerely that things will be different."

Organizers emphasized that before beginning to work on a new contract, the union must enforce the one they have.

"We fully expect the University to live by the contract they have signed," Meyer said. "But in the event that does not happen, we'll make sure that it does."

While some GEO leaders counted votes, others were participating in a national conference of the Alliance of Graduate Employee Locals. Dilley, who attended the conference, said other GSI unions there looked to GEO for leadership because of their strong position and new contract.

"Everybody sees what GEO has and that's what they strive for," he said.