For the past several months, GEO officers have been meeting with representatives of the University to advocate for the demands you decided upon at our June General Membership Meeting. In that time, we have made progress on several fronts:
- a remote work option for graduate employees with disabilities and international GSIs and GSSAs who are unable to travel to the US due to the ongoing pandemic;
- the implementation of MERV13 ventilation systems – or improved natural airflow – in as many classrooms as possible;
- access to cloth masks for all GSIs and GSSAs;
- and regular, mandatory testing for anyone who is unvaccinated or who has not reported their vaccination status.
However, there are still areas where more progress needs to be made. Further, we need to make sure that the recently announced COVID vaccine mandate is implemented in a fair and equitable manner. GEO fully supports implementing a vaccine mandate at U-M (see our July 30th statement on the mandate). We believe that widespread vaccination is the surest way to keep our community safe as in-person activities resume in Fall 2021. However, it is crucial that those who do not have access to vaccines are not punished by the University for noncompliance. For instance, international students are enduring significant delays in visa processing due to the pandemic while also being unable to be vaccinated in their home countries. In these circumstances—which are neither their choice nor their fault—our colleagues deserve institutional support, not punishment.
In order to continue advocating for more equitable solutions to these issues, GEO is enacting its labor right to negotiate over a substantial policy change with our employer, as we did last summer. We will be officially entering into impact bargaining with the University on Tuesday, August 17th. We will continue these impact bargaining sessions on a regular basis until we have reached an agreement.
Our bargaining team will be made up of Joey Valle, GEO President; Adam Benjamin Smith, Contract Committee Co-Chair; Richard Bachmann, International Graduate Student Instructor (IGSI) Caucus Chair; Félix Zamora-Gómez, member and former co-chair of the IGSI Caucus; Liz Ratzloff, GEO staff organizer; and Jon Curtiss, GEO’s representative from our parent union AFT Michigan. The bargaining team will meet with a working group, including members of GEO’s COVID Caucus and Communications Committee, to support their efforts at the bargaining table.
Our goal for this round of impact bargaining is to get the university to clearly and transparently lay out the following information:
- That no disciplinary measures will be taken against GSIs and GSSAs who cannot comply with the vaccine mandate because they cannot access the vaccine;
- That remote work accommodations will be made available for graduate employees with disabilities that put them at higher risk for COVID-19 and/or prevent them from receiving the vaccine, parents/caregivers with dependents who are unable to get vaccinated, international GSIs and GSSAs who do not have access to the vaccine or cannot travel due to visa delays, and graduate employees for whom receiving the vaccine would be a violation of their religious beliefs;
- That violation of the vaccine mandate will be enforced via a progressive disciplinary process with clear guidelines for appealing disciplinary measures;
- And that health and safety provisions, such as social distancing in classrooms and adherence to a set of publicly available early warning metrics, are put into practice across the entire university.
Since impact bargaining occurs in emergency and discrete situations and does not change our contract with the University, we will not be holding regular GMMs for the membership to vote on the proposals from the bargaining table, as we would during a typical bargaining year. However, we depend on hearing members’ feedback and experience to inform the impact bargaining process! While at the bargaining table, we will be guided by GEO’s seven COVID demands, which were approved by a membership-wide vote at the June GMM. In addition, we will provide weekly updates on the bargaining process to keep you informed about negotiations.
As a GEO member, your voice and your solidarity are crucial and will guide us at the impact bargaining table; we only win when we work together. If you would like to help draft proposal language, strategize talking points in HR meetings, or support this process in any way, please reach out to firstname.lastname@example.org.
Joey Valle, Adam Benjamin Smith, Richard Bachmann, Félix Zamora-Gómez, Liz Ratzloff, & Jon Curtiss