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, email@example.com