In a closed meeting last night, the Graduate Employees’ Organization discussed and overwhelmingly approved a list of demands the union wants implemented to avoid a strike. GEO’s current contract with the University, which has been in effect for three years, expires today.

“We want to put more pressure on the University, but (no action will be taken) for another month,” said GEO President Dave Dobbie.

Ballots will be sent out by mail to all members of the union in order to decide whether they approve a one-day walkout on March 24, Dobbie said. Another membership meeting will be held the day before that to assess progress before going through with an approved walkout.

“If after a walkout, we still were unable to come to an agreement with the administration, we would consider going on an open-ended strike beginning April 4,” Dobbie said.

The strike platform that was approved states that unless substantial gains are made in the stipulated areas of the contract, a strike or walkout will take place. Strides have been made at the bargaining table recently with the University’s approval of GEO’s proposal to have language prohibiting discrimination on the basis of gender identity and gender expression included in the contract.

Last night, University Provost Paul Courant sent an e-mail to all students, faculty and staff that was intended to reaffirm the University’s commitment to protecting the rights of transgender individuals. The e-mail indicated that a 6th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals ruling prohibiting sex discrimination encompasses gender identity and gender expression as well.

However, both sides continue to remain far apart on key issues, Dobbie said. The strike platform includes demands for “fair and equal access to health care, fair wage increases and fair treatment of international employees.”

The current contract was set to expire on Feb. 2, but GEO approved a contract extension while negotiations continued. Both the University and the union do not view the expiration of the contract as a significant barrier and will continue to negotiate as scheduled. Graduate employees will continue to teach, receive their salaries and benefits even while working without a contract.

GEO has been protesting changes that the University tried to make to its health care coverage last year. Dobbie said that the University did not make those changes because the GEO contract was not up for renewal, and the language could not be modified.

The fair treatment of international employees is also an issues of great concern for the union because it says that many international graduate employees are mistreated. The strike platform calls for reforms to be made to the English-language test that foreign employees must take.

University spokeswoman Julie Peterson responded to the strike platform and said, “I do think we have made substantial progress in recent bargaining sessions, especially with the inclusion of gender identity and gender expression in the contract.”

She said that GEO’s current list of issues carries a significant cost implication. “The University is facing the worst budget climate, and it is important to recognize and be reasonable about what we can pay for.”

Peterson said that the University has serious concerns about any form of serious job action occurring because it would disrupt teaching and learning activities. “We don’t think it’s the best method for reaching an agreement, in addition, it is illegal for public employees to go on strike in the state of Michigan,” she said. Michigan Act 336 of 1947 prohibits public employees from going on strike.












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