Two days before their contract expires Friday, the Graduate Employees Organization and the University are seeking to speed up the negotiations that began in late October. The two parties met last night for a bargaining session as they have been every Tuesday and Thursday for the past three months. During the last three weeks, GEO organized grade-ins where GSIs have come together to grade papers during the sessions to show support.
The slow progression of the negotiations have left many graduate student instructors frustrated and some are contemplating a strike.
“Right now, the University has basically rejected every single one of our economic proposals,” said GEO President Cedric de Leon. “We”re adults and we understand we are not going to get everything, but our contract expires Friday and they have literally given us nothing.”
University spokeswoman Julie Peterson said the University needs more information in order to make counter-proposals.
“The University feels it has been responsive to the proposals offered by GEO,” Peterson said.
Among the changes to the current contract that have been proposed by the GEO are:
n University-provided child care for GSIs with infants
n A written definition of harassment in the contract and protection against work-place harassment
n A written statement from the University agreeing not to support or use bottom-line budgeting
n A restructuring of the University”s use of language exams for international GSIs
n Equal hourly pay for all GSIs and
n A paid 20-hour-a-week faculty position created to monitor GSI hiring to ensure all University schools and colleges have a diverse set of student instructors.
At last night”s bargaining session, the University offered a tuition-wage proposal. Two weeks ago it offered a counter-proposal on harassment, which would include language in the contract stipulating that GSIs could go to the University for help if they had any problems, but did not mention harassment.
“Those types of changes are strategic and they have implications,” said Rackham student Charles Gentry.
Bottom-line budgeting, which the University verbally agreed to stop using last year, is a method previously used by the College of Literature, Science and the Arts in which departments are allotted a fixed amount of money to hire as many GSIs as possible. In the current method the slot model LSA determines how many GSIs each department can hire and does not set a fixed amount departments can spend.
“We want to get it in writing,” said Gentry. “You can talk and say, “the president (of the University) is committed to” which has all been said. There will be new people in the administration and we want to put it in writing.”
The GEO also requested that GSIs be given bus passes, receive bi-monthly paychecks instead of monthly paychecks and that GSIs currently not eligible for health care benefits be given the option to buy health care plans.
“In reply, we”ve heard not a whole lot,” Gentry said.
The University has refused to discuss many of the issues, and GEO members said the counterproposals to other issues offered by the University have not been up to par. Peterson said the University is working toward creating counter-proposals that are feasible.
“It”s not possible to respond to every proposal. (In any negotiating process) you have to try to get to some core issues that both sides can agree on,” Peterson said.
The University has stated economic reasons a lower-than-expected endowment and the current recession for not agreeing to some of the proposals.
GEO organized in 1973 after the University raised tuition by 24 percent but did not give GSIs pay raises. Contracts have been renewed every three years since 1975, when GEO went on a month-long strike. During the 1999 and 1996 negotiations, GEO held a walk out and participated in a strike.
GEO members said they are not in favor of holding another strike and want to give the University enough time to negotiate, but they will do whatever is necessary for their negotiations to be taken seriously.
“GSIs don”t want to stop working. We have a commitment to our students as well. I don”t want to strike,” de Leon said. “But when the administration behaves like this, what are we supposed to do?”
GEO members said so far they believe the University has been stalling.
“It doesn”t matter so much if it”s taking time, as long as the time is spent in honest negotiations,” said Rackham student Peter Soppelsa. “If it”s just them stalling, it”s not time well-spent.”
A strike is probably the last step members would take. In previous years, the GEO has held informational pickets, grade-ins and grade-actions when GSIs hold students” exams until the deadline causing a flood of paperwork for administrators.
“It”s very likely that some type of action will need to be taken. Maybe talking isn”t enough,” Gentry said.
Peterson said the University is hopeful about the ongoing negotiations.
“We felt like we had some productive back and forth discussion this week,” she said.
University Chief Negotiator Dan Gamble declined to comment about the negotiations.