Two years after holding a walkout, the Graduate Employees’
Organization is back at the table with the University, seeking
specific protection of transgender rights, less discrimination
toward international students and more childcare subsidies.

Negotiations will begin today for GEO to renew its contracts for
the next three years, after the current contract ends on Feb. 1,
2005. GEO’s platform this year rallies around “fair and
equal access to education, health care and employment.”

The union is working toward providing equal support and services
to its diverse members, GEO President David Dobbie said.

“A majority (of members) are parents, and one-third are
international students,” Dobbie said. The platform includes
working toward increasing child-care subsidies for parents, as well
as working to remove what Dobbie called discriminatory policies
toward international students.

GEO also plans on pushing for a change to the nondiscriminatory
clause within the University bylaws, GEO members’ contracts
and the GradCare health insurance plan. The current language of the
health care plan does not address the transgender community. GEO
plans to push for the inclusion of gender identity and language
giving people freedom to express gender in their own manner in all
University literature.

Health care has been issue of contention between the University
administration and GEO in the past year. Last November, the
University made changes to the premium structure for the
University’s employee health care plans, and wanted to
implement the changes to the GradCare program.

GEO filed a formal grievance, opposing the changes because
employees are under contract, but no changes ended up being made to
GradCare. The University would have to wait until the contract
expires to make any changes. Dobbie hopes to negotiate with the
University in order to maintain the plan’s policy that
graduate student employees do not pay premiums.

The impact of Proposal 2, which amends Michigan’s
constitution to ban gay marriage and similar unions, will also be
discussed at bargaining sessions today, Dobbie said. Many members,
he said, were worried about the impact it would have on
domestic-partner benefits.

University spokeswoman Julie Peterson said the negotiations
today would focus upon setting “ground rules” and
coming to an agreement as to what will be discussed in the upcoming
weeks.

“The goal is to conclude negotiations before the contract
expires, but in the past there have been situations where (graduate
student instructors) are working without a contract,”
Peterson said.

A bargaining team led by Jeffrey Frumkin will represent the
University in the negotiations. Frumkin also led the
University’s bargaining team in negotiations with the
Lecturers’ Employee Organization last year. The bargaining
team will consist of individuals from the human resources
department as well as faculty members from different colleges,
Peterson said.

She also mentioned that negotiations would generally be direct
conversation between the two parties, but from time to time would
include outside speakers in order to clarify certain topics, such
as child care or transgender issues.

In 2002 GEO staged a walkout when negotiations with the
University failed and GSIs operated briefly without a contract.

Dobbie said they have not ruled out a strike or a walkout in the
future, but said that it would have to be voted on by members at
the time.

GEO currently consists of 1,700 members, a majority of whom are
GSIs. They will have a rally on the Diag at noon today to kick off
bargaining negotiations.

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