Though the University claims to be an agent of civic responsibility, it continues to foster a work environment that is inconsistent with its values. Despite the successful contract negotiations with the Graduate Employees’ Organization and Lecturers’ Employee Organization last winter, the University has not followed through on all the demands it previously agreed to. Regardless of the financial shortfalls the University may use to justify its frugality with its employees, LEO and GEO demands must be adequately met, as LEO and GEO members, along with students, are the true backbone of this University.
A mere six months after finishing negotiations with the University, LEO has brought forth allegations that the University is failing to comply with its contract. The largest problem stems from the way the University deals with hiring, promotional and contractual issues. According to the agreement reached last June, each college is in charge of making decisions regarding those issues; however, according to LEO, various departments have not fulfilled their obligations. LEO’s criticism of various University practices cannot be overlooked.
Though they do not bring the University much money or prestige, the 1,300 lecturers represented by LEO are responsible for a vast number of the classes offered to undergraduate students. Unfortunately, when compared to professors, they receive little money and almost no job security. Last year, when lecturers chose to unionize, increasing job security was at the top of their list of concerns. In the contract reached between the University and LEO, the University agreed to have each college provide the specific criteria used in hiring, promotion and firing of lecturers. Understanding the criteria used by the different colleges when deciding to fire or retain lecturers would put LEO in a better position to fight for its members and contest University decisions. To this point, LEO claims, the University has not held up this promise.
At the same time that LEO is voicing concerns over University compliance, GEO is trying to work out a new contract. The union has been negotiating with the University since November to reach agreement on a contract to update the 2002 version. Currently, GEO members are continuing to work under a three-year-old contract, which was recently extended until Feb. 24.
During this round of negotiations, GEO is demanding that the University index the salaries of graduate student instructors to the rate of inflation, that the lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgendered GSIs be guaranteed equal benefits and that health care coverage — including coverage for mental health — be expanded. These demands, while expansive, ought to be honored. A living wage — one that keeps up with cost-of-living increases — will surely help GEO members support themselves as well as their families. Furthermore, considering that health care costs are growing faster now than at any time in this nation’s history, expanded health care coverage will help GSIs secure high-quality health care. Enacting a nondiscrimination clause is also important, as all GSIs, regardless of sexual orientation, deserve the same rights and protections.
The University has the potential to exemplify the greater social values it claims to stand for by serving as a model employer. If the University wishes to ensure the welfare of its workers, it must respond positively to LEO and GEO demands. It must fully honor the LEO contract it signed a mere six months ago and work diligently to meet GEO’s contract requests.