Graduate student instructors voted not to go on strike over a
health-care-premiums dispute with the University in a closed-door
meeting last night.

Janna Hutz
GEO members Adam McCormack and Matt Ides participate in a rally in front of the Fleming Administration Building yesterday. In a meeting last night, the GSIs agreed to negotiate with the University on health care payments, avoiding a potential strike. (SE

For more than an hour, members of the Graduate Employees
Organization discussed whether or not to accept the
administration’s response to their demands and conducted a
vote that could have begun the strike process by sending strike
ballots to GSIs. Choosing to send these ballots would have resulted
in GEO’s 10th strike since 1975.

The GSIs decided against this course of action during the
meeting, which had an optimistic feel, GEO President David Dobbie
said.

“We are happy that today the University offered to
negotiate the difference of opinion and go to the bargaining table
in good faith on Monday,” Dobbie said. “What
we’ve asked all along is to sit down and talk about
this.”

University spokeswoman Julie Peterson said the University looks
forward to the Monday meeting.

“We are hopeful that we can make progress and resolve the
grievance in a way that is in the best interest of both parties and
in accordance with the contract,” she added.

Though Dobbie would not disclose the number of votes for and
against the strike, he said the GSIs “strongly
endorsed” meeting with the University rather than going on
strike-though the possibility of a strike remains.

“We’re optimistic that we will have a solution
within the next few weeks,” he added. “Hopefully we
will have a celebration next (week).”

This evening’s meeting was preceded by a rally yesterday
afternoon outside the Fleming Administration Building. Members of
the All Campus Labor Council and GEO met to unite against the
University’s proposed increases in health care premiums.

Donning red shirts with “M Labor” emblazoned on the
front, members picketed with signs saying “Be fair, save our
health care” and “Premiums make us sick.”

Disconcerted by the proposed health care changes, GSIs
contemplated whether to stop teaching classes or to withhold grades
at the end of the semester.

In the event of a strike, one option some GSIs were considering
would be to tell students their grades or to give grades to
students graduating in December, GEO member Leela Wood said at the
rally.

“One concern we had is how a potential strike could affect
December graduates,” said GEO member Chris De Fay.

Currently, the University health care system pays more than 90
percent of all faculty and staff premiums, but if the Board of
Regents approves the recommendations put forth by the Committee on
Health Insurance Premium Design, the University would pay an
average of 85 percent of premiums beginning in 2005.

“As it stands right now, single grad students and those
with dependants pay no premium,” Dobbie said. “Under
the proposed plan, people would pay through cost
sharing.”

He added singles would pay $12 a month while those with
dependants would pay $23.

While realizing the current health care crisis, GSIs are angered
because, as they claim, the University’s actions are in
breach of the contract GEO signed in May 2002. Moreover, GSIs cite
that the increased premiums would lead to a $120,000 saving for the
University, which is a small fraction of the over $22 million the
University earned from the health care system last year.

According to the GSIs, the recommended premium increases provide
for a short-term solution to the health care crisis rather than
combating rising health care costs.

“The biggest argument is essentially the University saying
health care costs are spiraling out of control,” DeFay said.
“We have a contract and the University is not honoring it.
The University is doing something illegal.”

“That’s the most important issue — the
University is breaking the law,” he added.

The union filed a formal grievance with the University and in
regard to any legal action, Dobbie said, “We’ve been in
that process.”

Some members of the University’s seven organized labor
unions, including GEO, view the health care crisis as an issue that
affects much of United States and want the University to take
charge of dealing with the crisis just as it tackled the
affirmative action issue, Dobbie said in a written statement.

“The problem with health care is the rising costs,”
Dobbie said. “This national problem needs a national solution
and it could start here.”

 

 

 

 

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