The issue of unionization has recently become a major concern for graduate students at the University. The Graduate Employees’ Organization is lobbying to bring graduate student research assistants under the umbrella of its union, and the University is declining to negotiate this issue with GEO. While GEO hasn’t gone on strike, members are not happy about the University’s current stance at the bargaining table. The University is under no obligation to discuss GSRA unionization with GEO, but it’s important that it recognizes the needs of GSRAs — who do invaluable work on their research projects — and be sure that they are being met.

GEO is currently in negotiations with the University about its contract. Among the issues on the bargaining table is the desire to unionize GSRAs. As a result of a 1981 Michigan Employment Relations Commission ruling in which the University contested GSRAs status as union members, GEO only represents graduate student instructors and graduate student staff assistants. GEO wants to bring GSRAs into its collective bargaining agreement to help address issues of wage discrepancies, concerns of disabled and international GSRAs and other issues pertaining to working conditions.

According to Jeff Frumkin, the associate vice provost and senior director of academic resources, the University has a permissive right to not discuss this issue and has chosen not to do so. Since GSRAs are not protected by GEO, GEO doesn’t have the authority to negotiate GSRA rights. GEO is overstepping its bounds in trying to bring GSRAs into its bargaining agreement and needs to recognize where its authority ends. But the University needs to work directly with GSRAs to make sure that their needs are being met, their concerns are being addressed and they know what resources are available to them if they have an issue to discuss.

In an interview with the Daily, Frumkin said the University doesn’t think it’s in GSRAs’ best interest to join GEO because a collective bargaining agreement wouldn’t properly address the specific issues related to each GSRA research project. Many GSRAs agree with this sentiment and have indicated that they don’t want to join GEO. But the University cannot completely ignore the needs of GSRAs. Clearly there is a missing link in this situation, and the University needs to address this concern.

If GSRAs want to campaign for unionization that is their right, but they need to actively pursue this option with GEO behind them. Not the other way around. Currently, GEO is attempting to assimilate GSRAs into its union by asking them to sign membership cards, but there should also be active participation by GSRAs so it’s evident that they are collectively on board with this decision.

There are undoubtedly situations in which a GSRA may require assistance in dealing with a faculty member or the conditions of his or her work at the University, but unionizing may not be the most effective solution. Instead, the University must be willing to help GSRAs by expanding or implementing necessary resources.

Leave a comment

Your email address will not be published.