In November 2022, the Graduate Employees’ Organization organized a rally on the Diag, which spurred months of subsequent activism related to their ongoing contract negotiations with the University of Michigan. GEO and the University still have not settled on a new contract, though the organization recently received support from the campus community in the form of an open letter with more than 320 signatures.
The letter, signed by both campus organizations and students, supports Graduate Student Instructors in their efforts to increase their pay. The letter encourages the University to grant GEO’s requests, claiming that the organization’s requests would make the University a better place for everyone on campus.
“GEO’s proposals would make for a safer, more equitable, and inclusive workplace and campus,” the letter reads.
Daille Held, U-M Dearborn senior and president of the tri-campus OneUniversity initiative for the Dearborn campus, said their organization signed the letter because they believed increasing GSI salaries would lead to a higher standard of education for undergraduates.
“Most students, a lot of them, will be graduate students in the future,” Held said. “And so this does directly impact them and their future on what their union can do to protect them when they do seek graduate student employment.”
LSA sophomore Nat Leach, president of the U-M chapter of the Young Democratic Socialists of America, said YDSA signed the letter because almost every undergraduate student will interact with graduate students in some capacity during their time at the University. Because of GSI’s involvement on campus Leach said she believed undergraduates should support GSIs in the contract negotiation process.
“Ultimately, we’re all going to have GSIs on campus and interact with graduate workers in one way or another,” Leach said. “Their working conditions are the conditions we are learning in.”
GSIs make $24,055 per year for working 40 hours a week over an eight-month period, or the hourly equivalent of about $35 for the Ann Arbor campus, according to University spokesperson Kim Broekhuizen in an email to The Michigan Daily on Jan. 11.
The open letter said many GSIs are rent-burdened as a result of their current salary, meaning that they pay 30% or more of their paycheck in rent each month. GEO is asking for the University to increase their salaries to $38,500 per year, which, according to the MIT Living Wage Calculator, is considered a living wage for the Ann Arbor area, whereas their current salary is not.
In addition to their pay, GSIs receive tuition waivers each semester. In-state students receive $12,947 per semester and out-of-state students receive $26,062 according to the Jan. 11 email from Broekhuizen. Additionally, GSIs are offered comprehensive health insurance from the University.
Amir Fleischmann, contract committee chair for GEO, said GSIs still experience financial pressures and he hopes the open letter will raise awareness within the campus community.“(Salary is) a huge issue for us,” Fleischmann said. “I think many undergraduates might not be aware of the situation that we’re facing and what it’s like being a GSI and how little we get paid.”
Music, Theatre & Dance senior Juan Gonzalez Valdivieso, activism chair and board member of Students Allied for Freedom and Equality, one of the organizations who signed the open letter, said he encourages undergraduate students to look at GEO’s demands and support them if they agree.
“I think the biggest thing is to read up on what this contract campaign is, what it’s comprised of, what it stands for (and) who is behind it,” Gonzalez Valdivieso said. “Because pretty quickly into that deep dive, you’re going to realize just how important this contract campaign is for everybody at the University.”
In an email to The Daily on Feb. 16, Broekhuizen wrote that the University is currently bargaining in good faith with GEO.
“We wholeheartedly agree that our graduate student instructors and graduate student staff assistants are valued and vital members of our campus community,” Broekhuizen wrote. “The University is actively bargaining in good faith on all bargainable issues, including wages, hours and working conditions, and we’re confident that we’ll reach agreement on a contract that is fair and reasonable.”
Held said he was grateful for the other organizations who signed the open letter in support of GEO. Held said OneUniversity, decided to support and advocate for the open letter in hopes that it would move the negotiations along in a constructive way.
“We’re hoping that even if our signature isn’t enough to persuade them, that by signing this letter, that (human resources), (the Board of) Regents (and) the administration of the University will take (GEO’s demands) seriously,” Held said. “(We hope the University will) propose a contract that is affordable for what they’re saying.”
Daily News Editor Riley Hodder can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Editor’s Note: This article previously stated that graduate students make their salary per term. It has been updated to state that they make their salary per year.