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Graduate workers union says contract talks with University of Michigan not going well

Caroline Llanes
Michigan Radio file photo
Members of the Graduate Employees' Organization and students marched from the Michigan Union to Mosher Jordan residence halls to stand in solidarity with other university employees in September 2020.

GEO, the union representing graduate student instructors and staff assistants at the University of Michigan says contract talks with its employer are not going well.

Amir Fleischmann, chair of the GEO contract committee, said union members need a 60% pay increase over the three years of the contract in order to be able to afford to live in Ann Arbor. That would bump the annual stipend from about $24,000 to $38,000.

But the university offered a total 7.5% increase. Fleischmann said that actually amounts to a pay cut due to inflation.

"Four in five grad workers are struggling to pay rent," he said. "Raises that are below the rate of inflation are simply not going to cut it. So if the university was trying their best to make grad students go on strike, they would be doing a good job."

Fleischmann said the university has crossed out or ignored about 95% of the union's demands in its proposals. He said it's the same strategy the U of M used in recent talks with the nurses and lecturers unions.

"The university gave them crappy offer after crappy offer, until their memberships voted in huge numbers for a strike. Then they got the real offer."

Fleischmann said the union also wants a fund set up for graduate workers who are sexually harassed by their professors, that will cover their expenses if they have to seek another position.

He said he's very pleased to see the level of involvement by rank-and-file members, many of whom are observing contract talk sessions, and attending meetings and rallies.

The University of Michigan said it has been working with GEO weekly on a new contract to replace the current one, which ends May 1, 2023.

"We have offered additional bargaining sessions both over spring break and after spring break. The union has declined U-M's offers. Of the 54 proposals that GEO has passed we have given counter proposals on 51 of them. There are 3 proposals that are permissive subjects of bargaining that we have informed the union we are under no obligation to bargain. The university has not 'refused to discuss' any of their demands. We have had conversations and asked questions about all of their proposals. 

The university also said the cost of living estimate relied on by the union in its demand is for a full-time, 12-months-a-year job. "The current $24,000 is for 16-20 hours a week, 8 months out of the year."

The University of Michigan holds Michigan Radio's license.

Tracy Samilton covers energy and transportation, including the auto industry and the business response to climate change for Michigan Public. She began her career at Michigan Public as an intern, where she was promptly “bitten by the radio bug,” and never recovered.
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