The GEO bargaining team met last Monday night (Feb. 20) to begin putting into practice the framework agreed to at the General Membership Meeting (GMM). Eager to make progress toward solving the problems emphasized by the membership, they put across language on Wednesday (Feb 22) on many of the issues discussed at the GMM, including No Interference and Term of Agreement, Raises, Parking, Retirement, Hours Caps, Benefits (including Premiums, Copays and Dental,) and Tuition Waivers. GEO’s proposals aimed to address HR’s concerns and hesitancies while maintaining members’ bottom lines.
International GSI Caucus member Sheira Cohen, who has spoken on hours caps (especially implications for International GSIs with restrictive visas) at previous GMMs, returned to the bargaining table Monday to help present the latest language. The GEO team held firm on the aspects of the Hours Proposal that the caucus felt were most central to International GSIs’ concerns. They maintained the hard week-by-week hours cap and insisted that there not be a two-tier system differentiating work hours rules between International and Domestic GSIs. They also maintained a clause enabling concerned GSIs to initiate the grievance process prior to the start of the term in order to work out hours concerns in advance. The “show your work” clause was dropped in order to address HR’s concern that administrators’ time would be greatly burdened by the need to create fractions with input from various parties prior to the start of the term. The team and caucus felt that maintaining the early grievance option could address concerns that the “show your work” clause was meant to address.
The university pushed back hard on this particular proposal at the table, insisting that the work of GSIs is necessarily structured such that wild fluctuations above and below the average are unavoidable. HR talked through the possibility of assigning International and Domestic GSIs different workloads throughout the term, so that changes to the structure of graduate work (and its wild fluctuations) would be preserved. The GEO team argued that a hard weekly hours cap for all GSIs not only prevented unfair and divisive differential treatment, but also provided an avenue to improve the structure of GSI work and pedagogical practice generally.
After a lot of debate, the teams separated only briefly before HR returned with a proposal of their own. The administration’s proposal covered every issue being discussed in bargaining but contained very few advances from their previous offer. HR did offer the following new changes in addition to some procedural tweaks:
- ELI Insurance: In place of a refund for the cost of insurance during the English Language Institute, a $10/day increase in the per diem stipend.
- Raises: 2.5% in 2017, 2% in 2018 and 2019. This is up fractionally from HR’s previous offer of 2% per year, but still a long way from a living wage.
- Hours: An explicit guarantee not to assign International GSIs more hours than is permitted by their visas (i.e., not more than 20 hours in any single week), but keeping the existing system of accounting hours for domestic students. International GSIs present at bargaining expressed concern that such a two-tier system could breed resentment and discrimination.
The GEO team expressed their disappointment to have presented many changes in the spirit of negotiation and dialogue, only to receive such a meager response. It was clear that HR had prepared their latest proposal in advance of this week’s discussions, demonstrating that despite sometimes heated dialogue, HR has not been considering our arguments or working hard enough to find solutions to the issues GEO members face.