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After months of sit-ins, walkout speculations and negotiations with the University of Michigan, the Graduate Employees’ Organization officially ratified their new contract April 15; according to the GEO website, the contract will go into effect May 1 and last until 2020. Advances in Diversity, Equity and Inclusion for Graduate Student Staff Assistant positions and protections for international Graduate Student Instructors, among other changes were included in the final contract.
A sit-in occured at the Michigan Union April 10. Though GEO members had voted to authorize a walkout the night prior, the event was called off when the organization announced a tentative agreement was reached between the graduate students and the University.
According to former GEO president John Ware, about 400 members attended the first meeting after the contract announcement. They then voted to send the contract out to all GEO members for electronic ratification. GEO members — GSIs or GSSAs for the winter 2017 semester — received the contract and on April 15, 72.9 percent of eligible voters participated in the vote and 98.6 percent of those voted yes for ratification.
According to the GEO website, 27 bargaining sessions for the contract resulted in approximately 130 hours at the bargaining table with the University.
New GEO president Rachel Miller, who was voted in on Sunday, said the bargaining process as a whole resulted in a lot of wins for the organization.
“(Bargaining) was incredibly successful from our point of view,” she said. “I think it really demonstrated how committed graduate student workers are to solidarity and to supporting each other and it really showed we are able to get a really good contract when we work together.”
In a statement from the University, Melissa Sortman, the lead negotiator for the University during the bargaining process, said the contract brings in all three University campuses and is a good compromise for everyone involved.
“This is a fair contract that recognizes the important contributions that GEO members make as part of the community of scholars on our three campuses,” she said. “We will now work closely with University Human Resources and the schools and colleges to implement the terms.”
Two highlights of the contract include the creation of six contractually guaranteed GSSA DEI positions and an annual $700 co-pay cap on mental health visits. As far as GEO knows, Ware said, these contract provisions are the first of their kind in the country.
A cap of approximately 20 hours per week for international GSIs to make sure they don’t violate their visas was also included in the contract.
According to the GEO website, GEO meetings in the past year have resulted in a future focus on furthering the strides made in the contract pertaining to international GSIs and DEI initiatives. Miller said GEO will use their new contract to push for more protections against international discrimination and more paid positions for graduate students doing DEI work.
“This new hours cap is something that we really have to be vigilant about enforcing to make sure that international graduate students aren’t discriminated against,” she said. “I think we also are very committed to expanding the role that graduate students play in the implementation and design of DEI. The six positions that we won are only really the beginning of a sort of longer, more-sweeping campaign.”
Along with enforcing the hours cap, Ware said GEO is going to be watching for grievances from graduate students and following up on those cases to combat discrimination.
“We’re going to have a very active grievance committee over the next year,” he said. “They’re going to be working very closely with the International Student Caucus and they’re going to be very vigilant for cases where there may be discrimination or unfair shifting of work.”
Miller said another focus of GEO will be on the Lecturers Employee Organization’s contract bargaining discussions next school year. She said they will stand by LEO and support their efforts.
“LEO … are bargaining a new contract this year, so just because our contract campaign is over doesn’t mean the fight for making U of M a more equitable workplace ends,” she said.