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The University of Michigan Graduate Employees’ Organization members and allies established a negotiated contract with the University late Monday afternoon after the GEO held its third sit-in of the semester earlier that morning during the first meeting of a graduate DEI labor task force created by Chief Diversity Officer Robert Sellers, vice provost for equity and inclusion.
According to GEO President John Ware, a Rackham student, bargaining sessions reconvened Monday morning at 9:30 a.m. and continued until 6:30 p.m. The new tentative contract was then taken to the GEO membership meeting and the members present at the meeting voted to ratify the contract. He said the contract will be sent to all union members electronically and he expects it will be ratified by the organization.
This negotiation has been in the works for months as GEO members have held grade-ins and sit-ins to vocalize their concerns with the contract-bargaining process they have been engaged in with the University since November. Many of the proposals GEO representatives believed were not met by the University include the creation of paid staff positions for those working on diversity programs as part of University President Mark Schlissel’s Diversity, Equity and Inclusion plan launched last October, protections for international students and expanded health care benefits.
Last month, an op-ed was published in the Daily calling for the University to pay Graduate Student Staff Assistants and Graduate Student Instructors for their work in implementing DEI initiatives. However, new paid GSSA DEI positions were included in the new contract.
Additional highlights of the new contract include a 3.35 percent wage increase this coming September for GSIs and GSSAs, another 3.35 percent increase next September, a third 3.3 percent increase the following September, protections against hiring discriminations for international graduate students and other new benefits.
Ware said, though the wage increases were a large win for GEO, there is still a wage gap between GSIs and GSSAs between the University’s Ann Arbor and Dearborn campuses and the Flint campus. He said GEO will help to close this gap until the University intervenes.
“The total costs to close that wage gap is about $2,500 a year, so until the time that the University steps up with that $2,500 a year themselves, we, the GSIs, through our union, through our dues, we’re gonna pay ourselves to close it, just out of solidarity with our colleagues in Flint,” Ware said.
University spokesman Rick Fitzgerald said the University was content with the way the negotiation went.
“I think that this worked exactly how the collective bargaining process should work,” he said. “The parties give and take and work through it and we’re pleased that there’s a tentative agreement well ahead of the expiration of the current contract.”
In response to an agreement between GEO and the University being reached, the walkout that was proposed Thursday and authorized Sunday night has now been called off.
“There will be no pickets,” Ware said. “GSIs and GSSAs will be at work on Wednesday as usual, doing what we’re here to do and what we love to do — teaching our students and making the University the best that we can.”
Fitzgerald also said the University is glad the walkout was called off.
“We think that’s good news,” Fitzgerald said. “It’s good for our students. As (students) know, it’s the last week of classes and it’s important to keep all the class schedule intact and I hope that will be the case now that there is a tentative agreement.”
Earlier, at Monday’s sit-in, a number of GEO members had been vocalizing their concerns that GEO’s GSSA and GSI proposal should be considered by the task force as a way to push DEI initiatives and see even larger outcomes. GEO Staff Organizer Denise Bailey, a Rackham student, said the task force should seriously consider GEO’s requests.
“We think that we have a really good idea about how to make (DEI) work sustainable within the University’s structure,” she said. “We would like for the task force to really consider that particular idea, which is to make sure that the positions are adequately paid … but also given benefits and the other sort of protections that come with unionization.”
Information graduate student Vidhya Aravind, GEO DEI Committee member and organizer of the sit-in, also said earlier that not being able to do the work she wants to with regard to diversity leads to a lack of sustainable growth in inclusion. She also said the DEI work GSIs and GSSAs could be doing is usually done by faculty members who have extra time and the ability to work without pay.
“With the amount of work there is, (with) the qualification and expertise that marginalized grad students have in making campus better for marginalized students, it’s super important that they get involved in all the work that they can possibly be doing and there’s kind of a lot of it,” Aravind said.
Ware said, despite gains made in Monday’s contract, more work can and will be done by GEO in the coming months to create more DEI GSSA positions on campus.
“In this campaign, we got our collective foot in the door on a lot of issues and we’re not done and we’re not going away,” he said. “We’re going to keep fighting for more DEI GSSAs … We absolutely need more and we’re going to keep fighting and I know that everybody who cares about this issue and who cares about the position and the work of marginalized students on this campus is going to keep fighting.”