Childcare and wages remain the two focal points of negotiations between the University and the Graduate Employees Organization, after the two groups reached agreement on most other issues during 17 hours of weekend bargaining. When bargaining ended yesterday at 4 a.m., GEO was committed to its walk-out.
Bargainers representing the union and the University were able to reach consensus on a number of issues affecting graduate student instructors, including protection from harassment, training of international students and hiring procedures.
But Rackham student and GEO Chief Negotiator Alyssa Picard said those gains are not enough. “They have not met our concerns on three of the major strike issues … all the economic issues,” she said.
Each of the major economic requests made by GEO remains unresolved. They concern day care for GSIs with children, across-the-board wage increases for all GSIs and improvements in wages and benefits for “low fraction” employees who work less than 9.5 hours a week. Progress was made on the issue of childcare when GEO dropped its request for the construction of a 24-hour day care center. The union’s revised proposal calls for a University promise to help fund home child care. GEO also requested stipends for graduate employee parents. University Spokeswoman Julie Peterson said the remaining issues will be the most difficult to resolve because the money for them is not available.
“We’re headed into a really difficult budget year,” she said. “The state at best will give us no increase (in funding).”
Picard disagreed, saying if the University needs funds it can find them.
“The work action is about getting them to move the money from somewhere else to the pile of money for the contract,” Picard said. “Make the pile bigger. Spend less on the President’s House.” She said the threat of a strike prompted the weekend’s progress, after months of what she said were mostly fruitless negotiations. “Once they realized that we would (walk out), then they started giving us stuff,” she said.
Agreement on hiring procedures came with a commitment from the University that GSIs will not be hired based on their financial needs. This would guarantee that bottom-line budgeting, which gives departments a flat amount of money to hire all GSIs and may result in preferential treatment for those with lower tuition costs, will not be used in hiring. GEO and the University also created a definition of harassment and a new, expedited procedure to address harassed GSIs’ grievances. In addition, new contract language on affirmative action in hiring establishes a committee to oversee appointments, Picard said.
In the area of international GSI testing, the University agreed national origin may not be the sole reason to test or train instructors. Picard said this provision guarantees that, if a department tests one applicant’s communication skills, it must test those skills for all who apply.
The University also agreed to contract language defining a graduate student.
These agreements are tentative until being voted on by GEO on Sunday at GEO’s membership meeting. At this meeting, members will either accept the contract as it stands after this week’s negotiations or approve an indefinite strike beginning March 19.