Although its contract is set to expire today, the Graduate Employees’ Organization has agreed to extend contract negotiations for another week.
The union voted last month to extend its contract until today but will now work without a contract until March 24.
GEO plans to stage a two-day walkout on March 25 and 26 if it can’t reach a deal with the University by then.
Rackham Graduate School student Colleen Woods, the lead negotiator for GEO and a history graduate student instructor said the walkout would demonstrate the importance of GSIs to the University.
During that time, GSIs would not teach their classes, attend lectures, respond to e-mails from students, hold discussion sections or do any grading.
“We would ask graduate students to basically not go to work and to be on the picket lines to try to prevent other people from going into (campus buildings),” Woods said. “Any of the work they do for the University, we would ask them to withhold their labor for those two days.”
Jeff Frumkin, the Unviersity’s senior director of academic human resources, said the University hopes to reach an agreement with the organization before a walkout would occur.
“We hope everyone can go to class, both the students and the instructors,” Frumkin said. “Nobody likes the idea of that instruction being interfered with. It’s unfair to undergraduates.”
Woods said GEO’s bargaining team would be willing to negotiate with the University during a walkout as long as it doesn’t force GEO to cross the picket line into certain campus buildings.
In certain situations, walkouts are used in labor disputes instead of strikes because while a strike is open-ended, walkouts are often limited in length. GEO last staged a walkout during contract talks in 2005.
By allowing its contract to expire today, GEO is putting itself in the precarious position of working without a contract this week. Woods said the union didn’t want the contract to expire because they lose leverage in the negotiations.
“We can put the brakes on at anytime if we can come to an agreement with the University,” said Woods said. “In the eyes of many of our members the 24th is the last day to reach a contract without having to walk out.”
Tomorrow, GEO leaders plan to discuss extending the contract until March 24 to give its negotiating team another week to settle a deal.
The two sides agreed Thursday to negotiate four times this week and once next week.
“We’re pleased that GEO added additional dates to talk,” Frumkin said. “The more time we spend together, the greater the likelihood of an agreement.”
The two negotiating teams have yet to reach agreements on the issues that will be the cornerstones of the new contract, like salary increases and expanded health care coverage.
GEO had initially proposed a 9-percent increase for the first year. The University’s latest counter offer was a 3-percent increase.
“They need to do a lot moving towards us if they want to prevent a walk out, so I hope that happens,” Woods said. “It’s the goal of the union is to settle this contract without having GSIs having to choose to not work.”
GEO and the University have also failed to reach agreements on articles relating to expanded health benefits for GSIs and child care coverage.