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.