'U': Graduates should dispirit union strikes

BY EKJYOT SAINI
Daily Staff Reporter
Published March 14, 2005

If the Graduate Employees’ Organization fails to discourage strikes and other forms of labor agitation by members, the University may withhold union dues or take some other measure to penalize GEO, according to developments in the most recent bargaining session between the two parties.

Along with this proposal, the University has set forth a number of other points for negotiating regarding many of the concerns held by GEO.

Even with no contract, GEO has been in negotiations with the University but did not reach an agreement during Friday’s bargaining session, despite this new set of proposals put forth by the University.

GEO members did not respond favorably to the new package that the University offered.

“The administration’s chief negotiator prefaced his proposal by asking us not to ‘take it personally,’ but it’s hard to imagine how else we would take it,” said GEO President Dave Dobbie.

Dobbie added that he thought the University’s proposals were unresponsive to GEO’s concerns and felt that it was more of an insult. “It looks like they’ve just been wasting our time at the table if this is their idea of an acceptable offer,” Dobbie said.

The proposals that the University presented attempted to address some of GEO’s key demands, such as health care and improved salaries for graduate employees.

“Our team presented a comprehensive package of items which, if accepted by GEO, would have helped us to come to an agreement on a contract.  However, GEO was not prepared to agree to our proposal at that time,” said University spokeswoman Julie Peterson.

Among the various proposals put forth by the University was one that affirmed Graduate Student Instructors would not have to pay premiums for health care under a new four-year contract ending in April 2009. Currently, graduates do not pay health care premiums but there was some talk that they University may require it.

But despite this proposal, the University did not concede to GEO’s request for designated beneficiaries for each employee — a proposal that the University is concerned with.

“GEO defines a designated beneficiary as any adult certified by the employee, regardless of relationship but with some shared life elements, such as a joint banking account,” Peterson said. She added that the inclusion of such a proposal would add many new people to the University’s health insurance plans, as well as cost the University millions of dollars.

In hand with the previous proposal, the University would agree to negotiate future health care changes with GEO, especially in regards to premiums, changes in co-pays for various services and eligibility of dependents. The University has also offered, at its own expense, to provide summer health care coverage to GSIs employed both fall and winter terms.

In terms of salary, the University has offered to provide an increase over the course of the contract. A minimum upgrade of two percent would be offered each year for the first two years, and a minimum of 2.5 percent for the next four years, under a four year contract. In the course of negotiations, the University initially offered a one percent salary increase, which GEO felt was inadequate in relation to rising living costs. The University has upped that offer to two percent now.

GEO had initially proposed a salary increases that amounts to over 43 percent over the course of three years, according the University. “ It is not reasonable for GEO to expect large salary increases that are completely out of line with those for faculty or other employee groups, particularly during a time of severe budget constraints,” Peterson said.

An increase in child-care subsidy has been offered as well in order to combat the rising costs of child-care. An increase would be implemented every year based upon the average cost increases of University child-care centers.

“I do not know how we are going to resolve these remaining issues,” said Peterson. “Our bargaining team is prepared to resume negotiations this week and do the hard work necessary to reach a final agreement.”

Andre Wilson, GEO’s lead negotiator expressed his disappointment at the University’s lack of understanding for GEO’s demands.

“What they’ve put on the table is scarcely different from what we’ve seen from them over the last four months — the only real change being a completely inadequate wage proposal — one that doesn’t even equal what we have in our current contract, let alone address the fact that our wages are already falling further and further behind,” Wilson said.

Dobbie said that GEO will go back to the bargaining table in hopes of discussing better proposals on Tuesday. GEO is currently in the process of receiving ballots from members in order to decide if a walkout should occur on March 24. A final decision will not be made until GEO’s membership meeting on March 23 where members will assess the University last offer before a final vote. Bargaining sessions are currently scheduled for the next two weeks.