Two days after the Graduate Employees’ Organization voted to extend its contract negotiations with the University, the organization started work on unfinished business, including same-sex domestic partner benefits and health care.
In response to Proposal 2 — which banned same-sex marriage in Michigan and could ban public institutions from offering domestic partner benefits to gay couples — GEO wants to ensure protection for its members with same-sex partners in their contract.
Specifically, GEO aims to be able to register any adult beneficiary — regardless of relationship — to receive health benefits from the University.
University spokeswoman Julie Peterson said GEO has no reason to fear it will lose its benefits. If a court rules that the University’s same-sex domestic partner benefits are unconstitutional under Proposal 2, she said, the University will change the mechanics of its benefits system to continue to offer benefits to gay couples.
“The University has an unwavering commitment to (principles such as) diversity and same-sex benefits,” Peterson said.
Peterson added that a provision to the contract that acts as a safeguard against a potential court decision is unnecessary, because the contract includes a clause requiring renegotiation of any provision that is struck down by a court or legislative body.
In addition, Peterson said the University considers “designated beneficiary” benefits an “unacceptable” request because of the potentially enormous cost of such a policy.
Other matters that GEO wants to negotiate with the University include year-round health coverage for GSIs who teach only one term and broader coverage of chronic mental health issues.
Many of these proposals would raise the cost of the University’s insurance plans, which Peterson said is a problem because the plans have to break even financially and cannot be artificially subsidized by tuition dollars.
GEO has also requested changes to the contract concerning the international GSI hiring process. GEO said it is unclear what international GSIs are tested on before being hired. GEO wants more clarity in the contract and it wants the test to be based merely on how well they can communicate in English.
The University, however, said the test is already based on how well international students can communicate in English.
Negotiations like these are not new to the University, nor are the extended deadlines. Previous contract negotiations between GEO and the University have had their share of delays. Negotiations in the past two contract periods — 1999-2002 and 2002-2005 — started in late October and a tentative agreement was not reached until March after several contract extensions.
While GEO’s bargaining team will continue to meet with University officials to adjust the mechanics of the contract in order to reach an agreement, both sides say there is still much work to be done. The extended deadline for the 2005-2008 contract is Feb. 24.
“Change is a gradual thing at this University,” Peterson said. “We aren’t dragging our feet on the process.”