The Graduate Employees’ Organization created a solidarity fund to aid Graduate Student Instructors and Graduate Student Staff Assistants who are still feeling the financial effects of the winter semester strike. During the months-long negotiations between GEO and the University of Michigan, striking GEO members did not receive paychecks.
Under the terms of the newly signed contract between GEO and the University, GSIs and GSSAs who are working in the fall 2023 semester will receive a $1,000 bonus from the University sometime during the fall. In an announcement via an Instagram post GEO asked members to donate what they can of their bonuses to redistribute pay among workers who helped bargain a new contract during the winter semester strike.
“Bonuses and other funds in the Solidarity Fund will be redistributed to workers who are still feeling the effects of losing a month of pay in the course of our fight for affordability and dignity,” the post read. “Our historic contract couldn’t have been won without their sacrifice.”
In an email to The Michigan Daily, University spokesperson Kim Broekhuizen wrote that the bonuses would be paid out to GSIs and GSSAs through the University’s payroll system and it is up to the individuals to decide what to do with the money.
“The agreed upon bonus will be paid directly to GSIs and GSSAs through the University payroll system,” Broekhuizen wrote. “As a reminder, there is nothing in the agreement between the University and GEO that limits or dictates what GSIs or GSSAs do with this money. This includes no contractual requirement to return the money to GEO to offset the cost of the strike, or for any other reason. It would not be appropriate to have such a provision in a collective bargaining agreement. GSIs and GSSAs are free to do whatever they would like to do with the bonus negotiated on their behalf.”
Marick Masters, professor of business at Wayne State University, told The Daily in an interview that unions commonly help their members recoup lost wages after strikes. Masters highlighted how writers involved in the SAG-AFTRA strike are receiving financial support after their 148-day strike.
“It’s very common for unions to look for ways to take care of rank and file for the losses they’ve incurred during the strike,” Masters said. “What they often do is make appeals to members or to other people in the community to provide assistance. This was done, for example, in the case of the recent writer’s strike.”
The American Federation of Teachers-Michigan — the parent union of GEO — does not have a union-wide strike fund, so local chapters cover most costs associated with striking. Rackham student Prayag Chatha, GEO treasurer, told The Daily he wants people to realize the bonuses exist because strikers lost out on pay during the winter semester.
“I think it’s really important for people to understand that this bonus money is tied directly to pay that was withheld from workers who were striking for a better contract,” Chatha said. “(What) I’d like to say to GSIs, and even (GSSAs), who feel satisfied that they’ve gotten a good raise this semester, is to remember the sacrifices that striking GSIs made.”
According to Broekhuizen’s email, the University does not intend to offer backpay to graduate student workers.
“When employees choose to strike – like the GSIs in April – they are not owed any compensation,” Broekhuizen wrote. “This is a simple concept that is universally understood, and one that the university does not believe will have an impact on good-faith negotiations with other unions in the future. Before the strike began, the university informed GEO, GSIs and GSSAs that employees would not be paid if they engaged in a work stoppage.”
Chatha said he believes the solidarity fund is a chance for GEO to continue helping its members.
“I’m a GSSA (and) I’m not receiving a bonus, but I’m going to want to honor the sacrifices made,” Chatha said. “Donating to the solidarity fund is going to put our union in a position to continue fighting on behalf of our members.”
Daily Staff Reporter Miles Anderson can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.