The Graduate Employees’ Organization is currently pushing for the unionization of graduate student research assistants, but is this economically advantageous for the students? GEO promises three main potential benefits of unionization.
First, GEO will force the University to cover the one-time $200 Student and Exchange Visitor Information System fee for international students. However, GSRAs will get to pay GEO $260 per a two-term year for every year they are at the University.
Second, GEO will provide mediation services, but these services are already provided by the University’s Human Resources department. In addition, one wonders how often this benefit will be used considering there are layers of protection in place for GSRAs that minimize the need of mediation including the rotation system, departmental committees and the Rackham Academic Dispute Resolution Board. All of these are currently provided to GSRAs free of charge.
Third, GEO will be able to increase wages and benefits. GSRAs are usually paid by federal grants, which set clear standards for graduate students’ compensation and benefits that include both a minimum and maximum pay scale tied to the rate of inflation. Given that pay and benefits are federally mandated, one wonders how GEO will be able to bargain with the federal government. The federal government established these regulations to prevent abuse of graduate students at various institutions. GSRAs would have to pay $260 a year for GEO to bargain for what the federal government has already dictated and has set at a higher rate than GEO’s contract for Graduate Student Instructors. Do GSRAs really want to pay out of pocket more than 30 dollars a month for theoretical promises that yield little or no return?
According to data from the University’s Human Resources department, there are on average 2,000 GSRA appointments per term with a typical appointment fraction of 0.5. Using GEO’s table of dues, a typical GSRA will pay $132.12 per term or $264.24 per two-term year in dues. Multiply that by the 2,000 GSRAs, and the union is looking at bringing in a minimum of a half a million dollars more per year in forced dues. I say remember that $500,000 every time GEO mentions, “standing up for the rights of GSRAs.” Who really stands to benefit from unionization?