Admin Changes Its Tune
In an effort to shore up their anti-union stance, the administration has been trying hard to convince the university community that the GEO’s 2-day work stoppage of last semester was a "non-event." Unfortunately for them, their own rhetoric reveals that it had a significant impact on the work of the university. Below is a timeline:
Day 1: University spokesperson, Bill Murphy, described the walk out as a "non-event."
graduate students employed by the university — teaching and research assistants alike — it only makes sense that we have some sort of representation. Other schools have grad student unions, and they seem extremely beneficial. I came out to and supported the walk-out because I support the GEO and I think it is particularly important for students from the engineering departments to contribute their voice. We do have an enviable position — excellent pay and good RAships — but that doesn’t mean we wouldn’t benefit from having a union."
— Ruxandra Costescu (RA, Materials Science and Engineering)
Day 2: Bill Murphy changed his tune after the second day admitting that, by his estimate, 240 classes had been cancelled. (With an average class size of 32 that would mean that up to 7680 undergrads missed class.)
December 2001/January 2002: According to Provost Herman and Chancellor Cantor graduate fellowships & benefits are at the top of administration priorities even while other budget cuts seem imminent.
The future: Keep your eyes open for more administration attempts to divert graduate employees from their goal of union representation and a real voice in the decisions that affect them as vital employees of this
GEO members will be discussing additional actions at upcoming meetings. Your participation is essential to making things happen!
For more information on how you can get involved or if you have questions about the GEO, contact the office at 344-8283 or at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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Why the GEO Membership is Taking Action
Universities have come to rely quite heavily on graduate employees as a cost-effective way to teach undergraduates and to do reasearch. Each year the number of students taught by a single teaching assistant grows, and class sizes increase. In addition, each year the time it takes a graduate student to complete school gets longer. It is in direct response to these declining conditions that graduate employee unions have arisen.
The GEO is part of a nationwide movement of graduate employee unionization. Thirty-six campuses across the country have recognized graduate unions. Among them are the Universities of Wisconsin, Michigan, Iowa as well as
a growing number of private universities like NYU. The growth of graduate unions over the past 20 years has not been random. It has coincided with a reprioritization of values at universities, where campus budgets for instruction decline while more and more money is allocated for corporate research, athletic programs and the salaries of administrators.
Looking to campuses like Iowa and Michigan, where graduate employees have recognized unions, tells us many things. Most importantly, unions have not had a negative impact on graduate or undergraduate students in terms of quality of education, class offerings, tuition rates or student-faculty relationships. Charges that a union would destroy education here are clearly unfounded.
"When I showed up for my Biology 100 class lastsemester to find picket signs, I was halted. I thought about my grade status in the class, knowing that I value my education. I then thought about the strength and organization of the GEO and how unfairly the University has treated its students and workers. I ultimately turned around that day and joined GEO members on the quad to protest. As an undergraduate student, I understand the value of TAs. My education is often in their hands."
— Celeste Weber (Undergraduate in Sociology)
So what then is the difference between a unionized and a non-unionized campus? It is simply that graduate employees are given the opportunity to sit down with the administration and negotiate collaboratively over the conditions of their employment. The result is a contract that clearly spells out and secures the benefits and terms of employment. (See the chart on the right for more.) We believe we deserve this right because we are workers who contribute to the educational mission of the University.
The administration argues that they think a union is not in our best interests. But why should it be their decision? If graduate employees decide we want to speak as a single, united voice instead of as isolated individuals, why should we have to seek someone else’s permission? We have signed petitions, we have voted in an independent election. We have tried talking with administrators we thought might be sympathetic to our cause, including most recently Chancellor Nancy Cantor. We have tried to work things out via legal and legislative processes, but the administration has used at least $1 million of University budgets to thwart our efforts.
After nearly 10 years of work, we find our options in the pursuit of our rights to be narrowing. We are forced to look towards continuing and more forceful action like the recent work stoppage. No one wants to have to disrupt the university, but the power is in the administration’s hands alone to come to the bargaining table and reach a settlement.
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What’s A Union Good For?
Graduate employees around the country have gained significant improvements in the working lives through their unions. Some of the improvements won in other contracts include:
1. Healthcare Improvements and Cost
The GEO (at the U of Michigan) successfully negotiated for the choice of 8 different plans. Most of these plans are fully paid for by the administration (including family coverage)! Most contracts allow grads to add dependents free of charge.
2. Grievance Procedure & Other Protections
Union contracts provide a clear, formal grievance procedure that balances the needs and rights of graduate employees, faculty, and the administration. They allow for a timely and fair resolution of disputes that arise. Most specify strict time limits, end in independent third-party arbitration, and allow the right to a representative.
3. Undergrad Education/Teacher Training
U of Oregon’s and U of Wisconsin’s (Madison) contracts require departments to have ongoing evaluation of (and feedback for) the graduate teachers. In addition, UW-Madison has departments conduct their own trainings for teaching assistants. In fact, in order to get to the "experienced" pay tier a teaching assistant must participate in an additional diversity
Other benefits include increased academic freedom, anti-discrimination,
guaranteed leave, regular raises, workload protections, and better workplace
For more on these benefits, see the GEO’s Contract
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