So Much To Negotiate…So Little Time

With less than one month remaining in the spring semester, the GEO’s elected bargaining team is working hard to counter the administration’s resistance to bargaining in good faith. So far the contract’s purpose has been tentatively approved and a “savings” clause (which protects the entire contract if one component if nullified by a change in state or federal law) was established during negotiations held on April 15th.
[PDF version of update also available.]

The administration seems to be hoping, though, that by stalling long enough they can discourage us and thereby convince us to accept an inadequate agreement. However, our bargaining team is determined to move the negotiations forward toward meaningful discussions over healthcare, wages, and the other items critical to graduate employees. To win we need to do what we have always done when the going gets tough: organize ourselves, build our strength in numbers, and take action! We also need to begin discussing as a union what steps we are willing to take to get what we must have in our first contract.
Members of GEO's negotiating team deliberate during a recent  meetingIn each of the bargaining sessions, the administration’s spokesperson has attempted to refuse meeting agendas created by the GEO team, saying that they feel that the GEO is trying to control the negotiations process. At the same time, the administration drew up a comprehensive proposal of what they say OUR contract should look like, even though it is customary for the union side to initiate proposals that reflect membership needs. Handing us an absurd and insincere proposal — it looks nothing like any real graduate employee contract — is a tactic to stall and distract us. The administration wants GEO team members to respond only to administrative contract proposals. But we have been able to stick to our agenda, thanks to the continued presence of members at the negotiations. This will be our contract; the administration never wanted it. Why should we permit them to be its primary architect?
In each of the last two bargaining sessions the administration has refused to make a counter proposal to our statement on nondiscrimination, indicating that they do not feel a nondiscrimination proposal belongs in our contract. We have proposed a policy that expands our rights under state and federal law. We also want these protections codified in our contract so that they are enforceable by an independent grievance procedure. For forms of discrimination that are currently illegal, the right to arbitrate enhances our current rights. When it comes to discrimination based on sexual orientation or other practices that are not banned by current law, arbitration would be our only recourse. The administration says grads should “trust” them to follow the law and, in the case of sexual orientation, their own, policy. GEO’s team said that if the administration doesn’t discriminate, we wouldn’t need to arbitrate. What are they so afraid of? While all other contracts won by unions on campus feature anti-discrimination clauses, the administration thinks we should do without one. We’re determined that this won’t happen.
A good contract is going to require continued acts of solidarity. For graduate employees at the University of Kansas this unity was a key factor. As Greg Douros, a TA at Kansas said, “Last year, our TA union won a successful contract with significant improvements in healthcare and wages. Despite a year of budget cuts, we prevailed because of unified support from TAs.”
We can show our support by attending bargaining sessions. The next one will be held on Tuesday, April 29th. The issue of non-discrimination will be revisited, and important discussions about pay schedules and the taxation of tuition waivers will be brought to the table. Your attendance at the General Membership Meeting on the following night is equally critical. Come and learn more about negotiation complexities and strategies for overcoming them. GEO officials and bargaining team members for the fall semester will also be elected.