GEO, 'U' sign tentative contract agreement

BY KAITLIN WILLIAMS
Daily Staff Reporter
Published March 20, 2011

After more than 12 hours of bargaining, at 2:05 a.m. Saturday morning, the University’s Graduate Employees’ Organization’s bargaining team signed a tentative agreement for its new contract with the University.

GEO’s three-year contract expired on Friday. The tentative agreement signed this past weekend will be brought to a general membership meeting later this week for a vote to ratify the contract, according to GEO President Robert Gillezeau, a graduate student instructor in the Department of Economics and a graduate student research assistant for the Center for Afroamerican and African Studies.

Renée Echols, the lead negotiator of GEO and a Department of English Language and Literature graduate student instructor, wrote in an e-mail interview that the union was pleased to get a deal done.

"As the bargaining team went into bargaining on Friday with new proposals, we had no idea that we would sign a tentative agreement 13 hours later at 2 in the morning," Echols wrote. "The University's team was eager to conclude negotiations when they learned that GEO members had decided not to extend the contract a second time earlier last week."

Gillezeau wrote that the signing of the tentative agreement is evidence of the power of collective bargaining.

“The union and the University were able to come together at the table and reach an agreement that addresses significant problems facing employees with disabilities, parents, international students and others,” he wrote.

Under the tentative agreement, GEO members will receive more accommodations for disabled employees, which Gillezeau called “historic.”

The 1,800-member union represents all University graduate student instructors and graduate student staff assistants. The tentative agreement sets wage increases for GEO members over the three years covered by the contract at 2.5 percent, 3 percent and 3 percent, respectively.

In the new contract, members will also receive increased childcare subsidies and access to lactation spaces. GEO will also have three representatives on a six-person committee to evaluate the University’s current spousal work and study requirements for child care subsidies.

Several new employee benefits will also be included in the contract, including the establishment of a job posting website for GSIs and GSSAs and the elimination of mandatory group work hours after 1 a.m.

More details of the agreement will be made public after the ratification vote by GEO’s general membership, according to a University press release made public today.

Gillezeau wrote that the bargaining team is “thrilled with this outcome.” GEO and the University reached an agreement without a strike for the first time in 20 years, he wrote.

“This is how collective bargaining is supposed to work, and we hope that this sets a new standard for our relationship with the University,” Gillezeau wrote.

Ronald Dick, associate director of Academic Human Resources at the University, wrote in the press release that the tentative agreement signifies constructive cooperation between GEO and the University.

“With this agreement we were able to work together to pave the way for timely and effective accommodations for graduate students with disabilities in need of accommodations to fulfill their responsibilities as graduate student instructors or graduate student staff assistants,” Dick wrote.

While members of GEO and University representatives expressed overall satisfaction with the tentative agreement, some issues GEO members have been lobbying for — like the inclusion of GSRAs under GEO’s contract and the reduction of prescription co-pays — weren’t included in the new contract.

However, Gillezeau wrote that the tentative agreement addresses an impressive number of issues considering the current political and economic situation in Michigan.

After a vote by GEO’s general membership on Wednesday, the agreement will be brought before the University’s Board of Regents for approval.