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After months of sit-in demonstrations, rallies, town halls and more than 150 hours at the bargaining table, the Graduate Employees’ Organization reached an agreement with the University of Michigan for a new three-year contract.
On Thursday, GEO members voted to ratify this tentative agreement, approving the contract language negotiated by the bargaining team. The new contract will take effect on May 1, when the current contract expires.
The agreement entails annual wage increases of 3 percent, 3.4 percent and 3.7 percent for GEO members on the Ann Arbor and Dearborn campuses. Graduate employees on the Flint campus will receive a 3 percent increase for the next three years. Rackham student and GEO President Emily Gauld told The Daily this period of wrapping up negotiations has been bittersweet.
“This is a double-edged sword because on the one hand, we got some of the best raises that GEO has received since their 2008 campaign,” Gauld said. “But on the other hand, they fall well short of our proposal, which was what we determined to be the necessary raises to get us to the cost of living in Ann Arbor. And we’re still far below that.”
Gauld noted the gains achieved and the compromises made over the course of the negotiations.
“There are a lot of really, really great wins that we had that I think that we should be proud of, and are incredible victories for graduate employees at Michigan,” Gauld said. “But at the same time, there’s a lot of things that we didn’t get that we made compromises on that we wish we didn’t have to do. With the wins, also come the losses.”
The new contract includes language to strengthen protections for graduate students against sexual assault and misconduct, increased trans-health accessibility, increased medical leave and mental health copay cap reductions. Gauld said the last two are particularly important.
Leading up to Monday’s agreement, GEO members held a series of actions, including making more than 825 calls to the University administration and a socially distanced car rally featuring more than 50 cars.
“We may be in a pandemic, we might be quarantined, we might be locked inside, but our members are still here,” Gauld said. “We still care and we’re still willing to show up for the work that GEO does and the platform that we’re negotiating because these issues are still vital to graduate employees, with or without the pandemic, and in a lot of ways, even more so because of it.”
Rackham student Peter Martel is a member of the GEO bargaining team and has been involved with GEO since fall 2018. He said negotiations with the University resulted in many meaningful conversations, but it certainly wasn’t that way for all issues.
“There were plenty of times our conversations with Academic HR were everything you would hope for from the University of Michigan, and a lot of times at the bargaining table, it felt like we were making sincere collaborative progress,” Martel said. “But it certainly wasn’t across the board. There were plenty of sessions where we were frustrated with a purposeful decision not to work with us on things.”
GEO’s press release details further frustrations on certain proposals the University’s Academic Human Resources rejected during negotiations.
“GEO members are frustrated and disappointed at U-M’s resistance to bargain over our social, racial, and climate justice proposals, especially their rejection of several quite easily achievable demands,” the press release reads.
University spokesperson Rick Fitzgerald did not comment on the University’s relationship with GEO after negotiations and directed The Daily to an article in The University Record.
“Both teams worked hard to solve problems and reach a place of agreement,” Strategic Communications Director Dave Reid wrote in the article. “They said committees and special conferences have been agreed to throughout the contract that will help continue the collaborative problem solving beyond the bargaining table.”
As final negotiations wrap up, GEO looks to continue organizing around these issues in the next three years before GEO and HR negotiate again.
“It’s just a matter of remembering that a union is more than any single campaign,” Gauld said. “We are the 40 years that came before us and got us to this point, and we are the 40 years that are going to come after us and carry on the work that has been started in this campaign.”
Daily Staff Reporter Kristina Zheng can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.