Citing a lack of progress and the union’s decision to meet for only two additional days of bargaining this month, the University of Michigan’s negotiating team has delivered to the Graduate Employees’ Organization a comprehensive package in response to all outstanding issues.
The package, delivered May 12, includes the university’s increased compensation offer, as well as offers for all other articles and memoranda of understanding left unsettled after nearly six months of contract negotiations with the union, which represents approximately 2,300 graduate student instructors and graduate student staff assistants.
The university’s latest pay proposal — the fourth since bargaining began — would provide GEO members on the Ann Arbor campus 12.5% in total raises over the next three years — 5%, 4% and 3.5%, respectively. GEO members on the Dearborn and Flint campuses would receive 6.75% in total raises over the same period.
U-M negotiators informed the union that without “substantial movement” from GEO on most outstanding issues by the next scheduled bargaining session May 16, the university will petition the Michigan Employment Relations Commission to engage in the “fact finding” process.
When GEO received the university’s package of proposals, university officials said, union representatives informed the adminstration they would not be able to respond in full by May 16 and offered to meet for an additional bargaining day May 31.
“Grads are extremely disappointed that HR is still offering us a so-called raise below the rate of inflation. The reason that 95% of us voted to strike and many hundreds of us were willing to miss our April paychecks is because the affordability crisis is so severe that we have no other option,” said Amir Fleischmann, GEO Contract Committee chair.
In union negotiations, “fact finding” is a formal process in which a neutral, state-appointed fact-finder reviews the remaining disputed issues and provides recommendations for settlement of the contract. The process can take several months, and the final report is not binding on either party.
“One of our guiding principles since the very beginning of negotiations has been that the continuity of instruction and support for all of our students is at the core of our mission as a university,” said Sascha Matish, associate vice provost and senior director for academic human resources. “We need to ensure that this collective bargaining process continues to move forward, and the fact-finding process is the correct next step.”
Fleischmann said that while GEO bargaining team members do not think the university’s actions are necessary at this time, and that both sides are continuing to make movement at the table, the fact-finding process “will only serve to vindicate our position.”
“These are the facts: With a budget surplus of over $400 million, the University of Michigan has more than enough money to pay us a living wage,” Fleischmann said. “The amount of money we’re asking for is in line with peer institutions and is a modest salary given the local cost of living.”
The two sides have made limited progress in the six months since collective bargaining began last November. U-M requested a state-appointed mediator in December when the parties could not agree on the logistics of bargaining sessions.
Since then, GEO has filed three unfair labor practice charges with MERC, and the university has filed one. Last month, an administrative law judge ruled that GEO committed an unfair labor practice by violating the no-strike clause in its current contract when members walked off the job in late March.
The strike, which continued through the end of winter term, prompted U-M to seek an injunction in Washtenaw County Circuit Court ordering a halt to the strike. The court would later rule against the university, citing its inability to prove the strike had caused “irreparable harm” to the institution.
Circuit Judge Carol Kuhnke suggested, and the parties agreed, that a stipulated order was appropriate to inform GSIs to submit grades collected — and any ungraded assignments or exams submitted — prior to the strike.
With the winter term complete and the union’s contract having expired May 3, the two parties met May 5 for a bargaining session and to discuss dates for future sessions.
U-M negotiators offered to meet every weekday throughout May for full days of bargaining. GEO committed to two sessions for the remainder of the month, arguing that its bargaining team is made up of volunteer students with other obligations and that additional bargaining sessions would not be a good use of their time “until AHR is ready to present a serious offer.”
In response, the university amended its unfair labor practice complaint with the state May 10, claiming the scant availability was a bad-faith bargaining tactic.
U-M and GEO have not reached an agreement on compensation, with the union demanding a 60% pay raise in the first year of its three-year contract. GEO members, who currently earn about $35 per hour, would earn about $55 per hour next year under the GEO proposal.
GEO proposed this raise in November, and while the union has offered a restructured plan in the months since then, the 60% raise has remained constant. Most GEO members are appointed at 50% effort — or about 16-20 hours per week — for two-thirds of the year.
In addition to their earnings, GEO members who are expected to work an average of at least 7.5 hours per week pay no tuition. Per their contract, they also receive child-care subsidies that start at $3,043 for one child per semester and comprehensive health insurance with no monthly premiums.
Audrey Rose Gutierrez
The University of Michigan administration is well aware that since the last bargaining period, the cost of living adjustment is nearly 17%. They are aware of this, because administrators have received raises that either keep up with inflation each year or at least manage the needs of their households.
These so-called “raises” are still a pay cut in the face of the insane inflation our country has been seeing in the last three years. Our GSIs are crumbling under the weight of trying to make ends meet with only $24k this year, and this paltry offer is not going to fix that. I challenge UM’s bargaining team to try to live on the offer they are making for even a week: find an apartment at a suitable price, find groceries, afford medications.
Using the highly regarded calculator from MIT, a living wage in Ann Arbor *was* calculated to be ~$38k back in November 2022. We’re up to almost $39k already now (that’s how inflation works). Get the offer number at least close to a living wage, and tie it to inflation, not some fixed percent. Then come back and talk!
“The university’s latest pay proposal — the fourth since bargaining began — would provide GEO members on the Ann Arbor campus 12.5% in total raises over the next three years — 5%, 4% and 3.5%, respectively. GEO members on the Dearborn and Flint campuses would receive 6.75% in total raises over the same period.”
Is the University of Michigan willing to comment on the fact that they value the labour of grad workers, and the importance of undergraduate students, at Flint and Dearborn as lesser, and how this conflicts with their supposed values about diversity, equity, and inclusion?
Very disappointed that you’re still reporting a bogus “hourly wage” for employees that aren’t paid for even half of the hours they work. Grad school is a full time commitment (and a full time benefit to the University’s research activities!) even if majority of it is on the books as “training” or “education.”
Give the yearly salary in these articles; it’s all the money they have time to make. Or are you perhaps fully aware that paying full time employees in Ann Arbor less than $25k on average–and then whining when they don’t accept, what, $27k three years from now?–isn’t a good look for the University?
So you can’t afford to live in Ann Arbor but can afford to lose a month of pay?
“GEO committed to two sessions for the remainder of the month, arguing that its bargaining team is made up of volunteer students with other obligations and that additional bargaining sessions would not be a good use of their time “until AHR is ready to present a serious offer.” – so completing your school work is a priority but it’s not a priority to support the Undergrads through the end of the semester? Not to mention there are 2,300 of you, and you can’t find a group of people to meet with the University more than twice a month? You can find time to strike and hold little rallies around campus but can’t come to the bargaining table.
Hey GSI’s, have you seen the latest Mlive article? No one can afford to live in Ann Arbor: https://www.mlive.com/news/ann-arbor/2023/05/average-ann-arbor-home-price-over-683000-in-april-new-report-shows.html
Hey Jessyca, seem pretty pressed for someone who in October 2021 said, “Before we pay the next president a million-dollar salary, can we consider our staff and give them better pay first.” Where’d your compassion and solidarity go? Especially now that President Ono DOES have a nearly million dollar salary?
Not to mention that no…we can’t afford to lose a month’s pay.
Hi Jessyca, I understand the frustration about the undergrads missing out when they aren’t at fault for anything, but I lean towards blaming the University for not properly budgeting to hire instructors. I’m not a grad student, so only following along in the occasional articles that come out, but this offer really doesn’t seem much different from the one that provoked the strike. If the University cares about undergrad education it shouldn’t be dragging its feet to get a competitive offer on the table. It really sounds like they’re wasting everyone’s time with offers they know won’t be accepted.
Besides, has anyone on strike ever been able to afford the lack of pay? You’re starving either way, the whole point is to starve your employer along with you until they pay you enough to eat. It would also be more relevant to link an article about rent prices–I doubt GSI members were buying houses even before the recent increase in prices.
I’m curious as to why GEO believes that they should receive a living wage only working part time hours?
If the information being provided is accurate 16-20 hrs of work per week for two 4-month long terms…what is GEO doing to supplement their income the other 4 months of the year?
One of the issues GEO has brought to the administration is that often, although GEO members are officially appointed to part-time positions, the requirements of those positions often necessitate working near, at, or even over full-time hours. This is usually the result of the clerical work that happens outside of face-to-face instruction or lab time such as grading, lesson planning, and documentation. GEO is asking that they are fairly compensated for the amount of work and time they put in to their jobs in order to provide high quality and complete work. Hope that clears things up!
So wouldn’t it make more sense instead of trying to raise the hourly wage to get the university to acknowledge the time commitments GEO is making and to have their appointment changed from part-time to full-time?
(I have no idea if this has been tried/done before)
Audrey Rose Gutierrez
I know it must sound really strange! There are two reasons why graduate student employees are misclassified as “part-time”:
1) F-1 Visa holders are not permitted to work more than 20 hours per week. Therefore any salary for any graduate employee funding has to cover our needs for a full year, but ostensibly only for 20 hours worked per week.
2) GSI hours are also limited in hours to avoid taking away too much from our core job of doing research. The main job of PhD students especially is to provide value to the university through our research labor. If a student is funded directly through that research, they also on paper are funded to do that research only 20 hours per week! (See item #1) This research funding typically pays 12 months, or $36k, which needs to be adjusted for inflation this year, but otherwise is a living wage. How weird is that, that researchers are valued differently than teachers here? When we need an alternative resource to provide funding, we work as a GSI, but our research advisors (our bosses) insist that it doesn’t take away too much from our real jobs.
Unfortunately, even though it needs to cover our needs all year the GSI stipend is scaled for 8 months, unlike our research-funded colleagues. This isn’t fair because most of just us are not able to teach in the summer (far too few classes) even though we would like to have that funding. That + the inflation scaling is what we are trying to get fixed this year. Other members of the instructional team are paid much higher salaries and they also work only 8 months out of the year – GSIs teach 28% of classes for only 14% of instructional costs!
Thank you for the information Audrey. Having this information adds a lot of perspective to the situation.
Part of the issue is that the university insists on measuring by hour though gsi is given to us as an annual funding package. We are contractually not allowed to take outside work including in summer when we are still expected to continue working for university and towards degree.
So if I am reading your comment correctly- the university is requiring you work for them 12 months out of the year? But they are only basing your pay off of 16-20 hrs of work per week for two 4-month long terms?
Is this correct?
Yeah, that’s about it. I didn’t pay tuition during Sp/Su terms, and my program offered a modest stipend of about $4,000. Between May and September, I variously wrote literature reviews, collected data, collated and analyzed data, and wrote the dissertation. With the University’s child care assistance, I could put my school-age child into daycare two days a week—and I needed those two days to get the work done so that I could spend some of my time on the remaining weekdays with him. All of that was work that helped me complete my program, and also was work that benefited the University. My research and writing efforts were novice, of course, but nevertheless contributed materially to the University’s reputation and its ability to continue attracting new students.
To simply categorize a graduate student’s work as being solely for their own benefit is not accurate—nor would it be quite accurate to categorize it as solely for the University’s benefit. The key point is that the work is mandatory, and makes it impossible for most graduate students to hold down any job other than their GSI, GSSA, or GSRA position. The University knows this, but has no legal obligation to take the circumstances under which we accept these work positions into account.
One final point which is often lost in these discussions: all of the benefits we receive are benefits that were fought for by the union. Our working conditions improve not because of the generosity of our employer, but because of the tenacity of its workers.
That is correct, and weirdly enough the norm for classifying graduate students. It’s basically an apprenticeship; the student does full time (often more than full time) research and teaching work and the University counts part of it as “education” and part of it as “employment.” This obviously only works if the yearly stipend for the “employment” part is actually enough to live on. It’s meaningless and honestly a bit shady to convert it to hourly.
I got my PhD at a different institution with the same basic labor loopholes. The most irritating thing that’s ever happened to me in my life was when I tried to take a month off for health reasons and was informed that I did not qualify for FMLA leave because I “only worked 20 hours a week.”
The reason I needed the month off? Because I was only able to work about 35 hours a week (aforementioned health reasons) and I was *facing termination from the PhD program for falling behind.* Yeah.
I ended up having to take a full semester off unpaid with no health insurance and no guarantee of being allowed to return to the job, because that was the only thing available to a student/”part-time” employee.
But at least I was getting paid $33k a year. It’s $24k on average for these guys.
Melissa and Michael- I appreciate your well thought out responses. This definitely clarifies a lot in regards to responsibilities and time commitments and why there is such a disparity in the salary.