Graduate student instructors gathered in Haven Hall yesterday to hold a grade-in as a protest to draw attention to the Graduate Employees’ Organization’s ongoing contract negations with the University. But this wasn’t the first time that a group of graduate students have bounded together for a cause.
The Graduate Employees Organization is a labor union established in 1970 to lobby the University on the behalf of graduate students.
Every three years, the union renegotiates its contract with the University.
About a year before the current contract is set to expire, union members begin holding meetings to compile a list of changes or additions for the next contract. The union then appoints a bargaining team to meet with University officials and negotiate the new contract.
The union currently represents about 1,600 GSIs and staff assistants.
The second-oldest graduate employee union in the country, the GEO has won important concessions from the University during its 37-year history.
As a result of a GEO threat to strike in 1993, the University didn’t go through with proposed reductions in health care coverage.
In 1996, the union successfully campaigned to have the title of student teachers changed from teaching assistants to graduate student instructors.
Doctoral student Patrick O’Mahen, GEO communications director, said GEO has been more progressive than the University by recognizing and fighting for issues like benefits for same-sex domestic partners and resources for teachers with disabilities.
“We really pushed a lot of things in our contracts that were a little bit ahead of their time, like non-discrimination language,” he said. “We were protecting gay and lesbian workers in 1976, 20 years before the University.”
Rackham student Helen Ho, president of the organization, said although the group targets graduate students, it also looks out for the interests of the University as a whole.
“GEO looks out for welfare of graduate student employees, but also for all workers and students to make University of Michigan a better place to work, live and learn,” she said.