November 17, 2022
Hundreds of Graduate Workers at U-M Rally for a Living Wage, Work with Dignity
Hundreds of graduate workers at the University of Michigan (Ann Arbor) will rally for a living wage on Thursday November 17 at 9 AM on the Central Campus Diag in anticipation of contract negotiations with University of Michigan administrators. Graduate workers, represented by Graduate Employees’ Organization AFT Local 3550, are united: the current salary of $24,053.32 for Fall and Winter Graduate Student Instructors just isn’t enough to pay the bills. According to internal polling, 80% of graduate workers are rent-burdened, meaning they pay more – oftentimes much more – than 30% of their income to rent. One in three graduate students receives no summer funding at all and one in five has delayed medical treatment due to cost. These numbers have continued to increase as inflation eats into grads’ already limited paychecks. Some workers do not get paid at all: social work graduate students are required to work for 900 hours, usually without pay, to meet degree requirements.
Graduate workers are calling for a $38,537 salary in accordance with MIT definitions of a living wage in Ann Arbor. They’re far from alone. Over 48,000 grad workers across all ten University of California campuses are on strike for a living wage in the largest strike of academic workers in US history. As SN Yeager, a graduate student in Classics, states, “Graduate Student Instructors are the backbone of teaching at major R1 universities. We lead most undergraduate discussion sections and are responsible for face-to-face instruction. Yet we’re paid less than a living wage. If education is the priority at the University of Michigan, why doesn’t the University show it by paying us enough to live here? Since our working conditions are our students’ learning conditions, I’d expect the university to care about improving both for the sake of students.”
Contract negotiations with Academic Human Resources start at 10:30 AM on Thursday. Organizers have been impressed by the number of graduate employees who have signed up to observe bargaining. As Lucy Peterson, GEO Organizing co-chair and Political Science graduate student noted, “Graduates want to be in the room to hear how the University plans to resolve the crisis of affordability. They’re invested in the outcome of contract negotiations and are excited to participate.” Negotiations are slated to continue throughout the fall and winter semester.
With new U-M President Santa Ono emphasizing his commitment to transparency and communication, graduate workers are hopeful that HR and President Ono will listen and respond to graduate student concerns with meaningful changes. As Amir Fleischmann, political science graduate student says, “At one of the wealthiest public universities in the United States, we as workers shouldn’t have to visit the Maize and Blue Food Cupboard on campus.”
Pratiksha Menon (she/her)
Dom Bouavichith (he/him)