Press Release: U-M Refuses to Meet with Grad Workers’ Union

December 2, 2022

U-M Refuses to Meet with Grad Workers’ Union

In an unfortunate setback in contract negotiations between U-M Academic Human Resources (AHR) and Graduate Employees’ Organization (AFT Local 3550), U-M negotiators declined to meet with GEO representatives in a room large enough to accommodate them unless GEO first agreed to onerous ground rules. In their latest proposal, Human Resources would require GEO to cover the administrative costs of bargaining in U-M owned facilities and severely restrict remote bargaining attendance via Zoom. When GEO members objected to the requirement, HR indicated they would be unwilling to bargain further without the intervention of a MERC mediator. This is a reversal from a successful first bargaining session on November 17, when hundreds of graduate students respectfully observed opening bargaining presentations in-person and on Zoom.

The high level of grad worker participation in contract negotiations is motivated by the ongoing crisis of affordability at U-M. Grad workers play an indispensable role in teaching and learning at the University of Michigan, leading most discussion sections and many introductory classes. Yet according to internal polling, 80% of graduate workers at U-M are rent-burdened and 33% receive no summer funding at all; U-M Master of Social Work (MSW) students receive no compensation for any of their required 900 hours of work. Over 2,400 grads have signed the petition “United for Affordability and Wellbeing at U-M,” calling for the University to pay grads a living wage ($38,500 in Ann Arbor).  

Jared Eno, GEO president, commented, “Overwhelmingly, members decided to attend bargaining together because they didn’t want to be cast aside in discussions about their living and working conditions. Our bargaining team and members were at Rackham Amphitheater ready and willing to negotiate. We were hopeful that Human Resources would show up to build on the first week of successful bargaining. Unfortunately, they did not.” 

AHR made their position clear in an emergency negotiating session on December 1 attended by AHR representatives Katie DeLong, Steve Brummer, and Kamil Robakiewicz, as well as over 170 graduate workers. Speaking via Zoom, DeLong argued that since negotiations were happening in person, Zoom access should be limited to bargaining team members only. GEO Lead Negotiator Evelyn Smith countered that accessibility and transparency were guiding principles for contract negotiations and that Zoom was an important tool in making negotiations available to immunocompromised grads, parents, and workers on the Flint or Dearborn campuses.

Since Academic Human Resources did not attend bargaining, grad workers used today’s session to discuss next steps, including appealing to the Board of Regents and President Santa Ono to help ensure our negotiations take place on Zoom and in rooms large enough to accommodate interested grads. As SEAS masters student Arianna Stokes said, “Nothing about us, without us.” 

Press contact: Dom Bouavichith, dom@geo3550.org 

www.geo3550.org 

Twitter: @geo3550 

GEO Negotiation Bulletin #1, November 17, 2022

Click here for a printable PDF version of this bulletin.

Bargaining by the Numbers

  • $14,500 – gap between our current salary and a living wage
  • 2,400 – grad workers signed petition in support of platform
  • 400 – grad workers showed up for open bargaining
  • 100 – days until the March 1 deadline for HR to agree to a new contract
  • 60 – grad workers involved in 3-hour opening presentation to HR
  • 0 – questions asked by HR about our proposals

Grad Workers #ShowUp for Each Other

Hundreds of grad workers and allies gathered on the Diag last Thursday morning to kick off our contract negotiations with UM for affordability and dignity for all grad workers! As MSW student Arie Davey said to the crowd:

“Now is the time to demand—and I mean demand—what this university owes us.”

Workers Present Platform, Propose Living Wage

Over 60 grad workers gave a powerful 3-hour overview of our platform to HR, and the bargaining team formally made our proposal for a living wage. Malcolm Thomas (Public Policy & Economics) explained why he took action:

“I spoke up because there is a desperate need for more people from marginalized communities in the production of scholarship. The longer the administration of this university continues to disregard students like me by prioritizing white students with generational wealth, the longer this university will continue to produce decontextualized and reactionary literature that perpetuates white supremacy.”

Members Win Open Bargaining on Day 1

HR fought for weeks to limit the number of members in the bargaining room, relenting only after 150 grads personally wrote letters saying they wanted to be there. On Thursday, in front of dozens of members, HR refused to commit to open bargaining in the future. Let’s keep up the pressure!

Your continued presence at bargaining sessions is crucial!

Sign up to attend on December 2, 9, and/or 16 (locations TBD) at bit.ly/bargsesh.

Press Release: Hundreds of Graduate Workers at U-M Rally for a Living Wage, Work with Dignity

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.”  

Press Contacts:

Pratiksha Menon (she/her)
commchair@geo3550.org

Dom Bouavichith (he/him)
dom@geo3550.org

GEO Stands in Solidarity with UC Graduate Workers on Strike

The Graduate Employees’ Organization at the University of Michigan stands in deep solidarity with striking UAW members in the University of California system. Like UAW members, GEO members play a large part in instructing, mentoring, and assisting educational operations at our university. Like UAW members, 80% of graduate workers at UMich are rent-burdened, paying more than 30% of their monthly incomes on housing. We, too, know what it is like to struggle to make ends meet despite working for an employer with billions in the bank. Paying us poverty-level wages is a choice that our employers are making. 

As we go into contract negotiations with Human Resources this week, we hold up the example of over 48,000 UC grad workers fighting for a living wage. You deserve a contract that affords you work with dignity. If you win, we win. 

Solidarity from Michigan to California.

Abortion Care in Michigan and GEO Statement on Roe v. Wade, Planned Parenthood v. Casey

GEO stands in solidarity with all people under attack by the revocation of abortion rights due to the overturning of Roe v Wade and Planned Parenthood v Casey by the Supreme Court of the United States. Our previous statement located this decision within its broader context; this statement will focus on concrete implications for GEO members and actions we can take now.

At this moment, abortion care continues to be legal in Michigan. A 1931 state law bans all abortions except to save the life of the mother. However, a lawsuit brought by Planned Parenthood of Michigan obtained an injunction on this law, granted on May 17, because it violates the Due Process Clause of Michigan Constitution – not only its right to privacy but also to bodily integrity, and personal autonomy. 

Similarly, as of right now, GradCare health insurance continues to cover some abortions. Abortions performed by in-network providers (Level 1) or out-of-network providers for an approved off-site study or field placement (Level 2) are both covered, with $30 copays for each visit. Abortions by out-of-network providers without a referral from your PCP (Level 3) are not covered. See here for more details and materials about our insurance coverage.

However, if the injunction on Michigan’s abortion ban is lifted, abortion would be illegal in Michigan. Michigan Attorney General Dana Nessel, Washtenaw County Prosecutor Eli Savit, and others have pledged not to enforce the state’s abortion ban. However, our insurance would likely no longer cover in-network abortion care, leaving only coverage “as part of an approved [by Blue Care Network] off-site academic course of study or other field placement.” This requires grad workers to register with BCN, and the approval process comes with restrictions. In the case of direct Subscribers of BCN, a pre-authorization from your PCP and travel registration are required (2022 GradCare Certificate of Coverage, p27). In addition:

A Family Dependent choosing to register for out of service area coverage must reside outside of the following counties for at least three consecutive months: Genesee, Ingham, Jackson, Lapeer, Livingston, Macomb, Monroe, Oakland, St. Clair, Washtenaw or Wayne. In addition, for coverage, Family Dependents are required to receive services within 50 miles of the out of service area address registered with BCN. (2022 GradCare Certificate of Coverage, p15)

Furthermore, if the injunction is lifted, grad workers in Michigan seeking abortions would likely need to travel to Illinois, as Ohio has its own abortion ban, and Indiana and Wisconsin have medically unnecessary restrictions on abortion. In addition, UM grad workers living or working in any of the 22 other states banning abortions must travel out of state to access abortion care.

Here are some ways you can take action:

Demonstrate. As Black feminist Florynce Kennedy put it, “When you want to get to the suites, start in the streets.”

Gather signatures for the Michigan Right to Reproductive Freedom Initiative. This initiativeseeks to place a constitutional amendment on the November 2022 ballot that would “ensure that all Michiganders have the right to safe and respectful care during birthing, everyone has the right to use temporary or permanent birth control, everyone has the right to continue or end a pregnancy pre-viability, and no one can be punished for having a miscarriage, stillbirth, or abortion.” This initiative needs 425,059 signatures by July 11! To help out, volunteer with Reproductive Freedom for All (@mireprofreedom) or AFT-Michigan (which has endorsed the initiative).

Fight for abortion access for you and your coworkers. GEO members have been working to explore ways to fight for abortion access for grad workers. Current possibilities include pushing for universal out-of-network (Level 2) coverage for abortions, with no co-pay, no reimbursement, and no 50-mile limit; an emergency reproductive health fund; and guaranteed leave for reproductive healthcare. If you would like to help fight to get you and your coworkers better access to abortion care, contact feministchair@geo3550.org.