Newsletter 5/27: COVID Town Halls, Contract Highlights, and More

CONTENTS
1. COVID Conditions Town Halls
2. U-M Leadership Town Hall
3. SPAC Solidarity Digest
4. New Contract Highlights
5. Get to Know Your Contract!
6. GEO Caucuses need YOU!
7. Vote by Mail in the Michigan State Primaries August 4th


COVID Conditions Town Halls

Graduate students experienced a difficult winter semester, taking on the labor of the transition to online teaching, putting degree-critical research on pause, and, for some, graduating into uncertain job markets. GEO has been working to identify the urgent problems affecting the U-M graduate community in the hopes of responding to this uncertainty and calling for more protections and support from the university.

In order to press for these changes, GEO is holding a two-part virtual Town Hall on Thursday, May 28th from 5:00pm to 7:00pm EST. Both parts are open to GEO and non-GEO members.

5:00-6:00pm: Graduate Student Conditions under COVID
6:00-7:00pm: GSI/GSSA Conditions under COVID

RSVP here!

If you are not a grad student or currently a GEO member, but would like to attend, please email liz@geo3550.org for a link to the meeting.

If you plan on attending the first portion of the Town Hall, please fill out this form before the event, to help us get a sense of your more pressing concerns.

If you cannot attend the second part of the meeting but want to provide GEO with details of any issues you and your colleagues faced while teaching last term after the transition to remote teaching, please fill out this surveyThe survey is critical for ongoing meetings with HR about teaching issues (COVID-specific and otherwise) that must be addressed.


U-M Leadership Town Hall

President Mark Schlissel, Interim Provost Susan Collins, and Interim Vice President for Student Life Simone Himbeault Taylor announced last night that they are holding a Town Hall tomorrow, Thursday, May 28th @ 10-11am EDT (Zoom link here) to “share information about fall planning on the Ann Arbor campus, university finances and the orderly return to in-person work before addressing questions from participants.” This town hall on very short notice is not a replacement for substantial and direct engagement with the concerns GEO and many members and allies have already expressed to the administration.

As we continue to advocate for these concerns, tomorrow’s town hall is another chance to let the administration know that we are watching and will not be ignored. You can attend the Town Hall and submit questions (until 7 AM Thursday) that address the key issues outlined in our open letter, as well as U-M’s failure to respond.

Click here to submit your questions. You can do this multiple times. If you have time, please send a quick email to covidchair@geo3550.org with the questions/comments you submitted to the administration so we can track the number and type of responses.


SPAC Solidarity Digest

Every two weeks, the GEO Solidarity and Political Action Committee (SPAC) will be sending out an email digest of the requests we receive for support from our local allies. These emails are designed to give GEO members a menu of simple, straightforward ways to get involved and support our solidarity work. To receive these emails, sign up here.

SPAC is responsible for building relationships of mutual support with other like-minded labor unions, local political candidates, and activist organizations in the Huron Valley area. Through solidarity work, SPAC ensures that GEO has ready allies when we need them, while also helping to build a local community that is passionately supportive of labor and ready to fight for working people.

SPAC operates by the Guiding Principles of GEO and aims to strengthen inclusiveness within our own organization. For any questions, feel free to email spacchair@geo3550.org.


New Contract Highlights

With everything else going on right now, it’s easy to forget that we have a new contract! We wanted to start by highlighting some important information about changes to our pay, leaves, and benefits to be aware of.

  • GSIs/GSSAs will receive a pay increase of 3% beginning on the first day of the Fall 2020 term. You can also now elect to receive your first paycheck (normally paid at the end of September) at the beginning or middle of September instead; we hope that this will help ease the financial burden for those who are not being paid over the summer, or those with moving/relocation costs. For information on how to opt-in to this early payment, please contact umgeo@geo3550.org!
  • Our annual medical leave has been expanded from 3 weeks to 6 weeks; this is in addition to the two weeks of COVID-19 specific leave instituted by the university. It’s important to note that our medical leave can be used for a wide range of reasons, including mental health reasons, medical appointments, or caring for family members. If you have questions on accessing this leave, or on the details of what it covers, please reach out to us.
  • Our contract now allows us to request three additional days of paid bereavement leave (under extenuating circumstances, such as travel or cultural practices).
  • Last but certainly not least, beginning July 1, 2020, GradCare will cover up to 15 annual speech language therapy sessions for the treatment of gender dysphoria (a $25 dollar copay will apply). This is a huge step forwards, and is thanks to the tireless efforts of our trans health caucus.

These contractual changes are owed to the advocacy and organizing of our membership, and we will continue fighting for all of these things and more going forward. If you have questions about these issues, or want to help advocate for any of them, please contact us at umgeo@geo3550.org.


Get to Know Your Contract!

The Contract Committee is pleased to announce the schedule for this summer’s Virtual Little Pink Book Club!

What is LPBC? Little Pink Book Club (so-named because the physical copies of our contract have pink covers) is a fun and relaxed way to learn more about the rights, protections, and benefits guaranteed by our contract. As of May 1, there are even more of those than there used to be!

This summer, we will be focusing on the new gains that we won this past bargaining cycle. We will read passages of the contract together, discuss possible interpretations of the language, and brainstorm how to best educate our colleagues about our new rights.

When does it meet?LPBC will meet on select Wednesdays from 6-7pm.

June 10: Leaves
June 17: Benefits, Childcare, and September Advances
July 1: Sexual Misconduct Protections and Felony Disclosure
July 8: Union Security, GSSA Classifications, and Employee Rights
July 15: Hours and IGSI Protections
July 22: Disability Accommodations and Gender-Inclusive Restrooms

How can I join?
Click the link for each topic to RSVP. Then, the day of the event, you’ll receive a link to the virtual meeting. You can attend LPBC from your couch, bed, kitchen, or patio!

What if I have more questions?
Please feel free to reach out to the Contract Committee at contractchair@geo3550.org.

You can find your full new contract for the next three years on the GEO website here.


GEO Caucuses need YOU!

Caucuses are an essential element of GEO as an organization. They unite members with common concerns or issues; provide space to brainstorm and discuss possible solutions; and help maintain momentum around planks between bargaining years.

This summer is a great time to get involved, as long-standing caucuses are assessing how to move forward after this bargaining year and brand-new caucuses are emerging in response to issues that GEO members clearly care about. Here is a list of caucuses eagerly awaiting YOUR participation!

Climate CaucusCOVID CaucusDisability CaucusFeminist CaucusHousing CaucusIGSI (International Graduate Student Instructor) CaucusParents CaucusRacial Justice CaucusTrans Health Caucus1U (One University Campaign) Caucus

If you’re interested in learning more about any of the Caucuses listed here, please email contractchair@geo3550.org.


Vote by Mail in the Michigan State Primaries August 4th

All registered voters in the state of Michigan have the right to vote by mail. Absentee ballot applications for the August 4th state primary elections were mailed last week to all currently registered Michigan voters. Voting in the August 4th democratic primary for Ann Arbor City Council is important because the winners will almost certainly be elected in November!

You can also find the absentee voter application form online here, and you can register to vote — or track the status of your current registration — online here.

Once you fill out the application to get a ballot, you can either mail or email it to the clerk’s office, following the instructions on the absentee ballot form.

Applications for an absentee ballot need to be submitted by July 31st at 5pm EST. We recommend doing it earlier rather than later.

Where Will the Money Come From? Open the Books and the Community Can Help Answer

by the GEO COVID Caucus

May 14, 2020

In responding to the COVID-19 pandemic, the University of Michigan’s administration has been quick to assert the need for austerity. However, we know almost nothing about U-M’s actual financial situation. This top-down approach is harmful to all of U-M’s 45,000 employees–including graduate student workers. 

U-M’s treatment of its graduate workers underlines the need for a more collaborative approach. On May 8, 2020, the Graduate Employees’ Organization (GEO) delivered an open letter to the University administration calling for specific measures to protect graduate workers from the effects of the COVID-19 pandemic. Graduate students face financial insecurity, the inability to perform many types of research, a virtually nonexistent job market, and many other difficulties.

We received a quick response from one of the letter’s recipients, asking “where is the money supposed to come from for your monetary demands?” This flippant one-liner was not the official administration response to our letter, signed by over 1,750 community members (including graduate workers, faculty, staff, and others). But it does point to a legitimate question: What is U-M’s financial situation?

U-M President Mark Schlissel has stated that U-M will “share information with as much transparency and as quickly as we can.” However, the administration is yet to share detailed figures. In the current context, it is natural to ask for GEO and other stakeholders to have full access to the state of the University’s finances.

Michigan Medicine, which recorded a $178 million surplus last year, announced 1,400 furloughs and layoffs in the midst of the pandemic. It also instituted other cuts, but it has refused to be fully transparent about its financial situation, stating that it may be facing $230 million in losses. President Schlissel said U-M as a whole faces a budget shortfall of anywhere from $400 million to $1 billion. 

Why is the estimate so broad? Why hasn’t U-M taken the bold measures that the crisis calls for to dip into its $12.4 billion endowment? And why has the University not tapped the $1 billion credit line approved at the last Regents’ meeting instead of resorting to firing workers? These key questions remain unanswered. Instead, more rumors of layoffs circulate, now concerning lecturers. As stated in our Daily op-ed, any financial plan must protect employees for whom the loss of jobs and income in this pandemic will bring catastrophic consequences.

The Huron Valley Area Labor Federation (HVALF), to which GEO belongs, has already pointed out that the top earners at U-M should make greater sacrifices–more than symbolic salary reductions–before the University cuts rank-and-file positions. We have not seen any concrete evidence that furloughs and layoffs are inevitable.

It appears to us that the administration is using this crisis as an opportunity to implement austerity measures that disproportionately affect the most vulnerable workers. We need more than assertions of Michigan’s dire financial situation. Increased transparency will allow U-M stakeholders to ensure that the University’s response produces the best outcomes for the entire community.

HVALF is circulating a petition that calls for the University to open the books and share its full financial information, including specifics on:

  1. “Which units are losing money at what rate, and what share of those losses the units themselves are expected to absorb and what share will be paid by the wider university;
  2. What COVID-related federal and state money has been received (or is promised) and how it has been (or will be) spent;
  3. What share of the endowment can be used to help offset losses not offset by federal and state transfers;
  4. What assumptions about the future are being made, on what basis;
  5. What sacrifices each UM stakeholder has already made or will be making, to address the shortfall identified in current estimates.”

GEO joins this call and looks forward to using this data to help answer the question we received, and participating in a collaborative decision-making process to support the U-M community through this difficult time.

As U-M stakeholders, we worry that the austerity measures announced by the administration will disproportionately affect rank-and-file workers. We believe that the optimal measures to deal with the economic impact of the COVID-19 crisis are best decided collectively. To quote the HVALF petition, “cooperation requires common understanding and trust.” Weathering this crisis requires transparency and collective governance.

We await a substantial response from U-M leadership to our open letter by May 15th, and to the HVALF petition by the 19th. We look forward to having productive conversations with the University administration on these issues, and to seeing U-M and its workers emerge from this crisis stronger than ever.

The GEO COVID Caucus co-chairs can be reached at covidchair@geo3550.org. View a PDF version of this statement here.

Bargaining Update 4/8/2020

At Wednesday’s remote bargaining session, our Bargaining Team passed across the table multiple counter offers targeting various issues within our platform. There were some productive discussions with Academic HR about access to gender-inclusive restrooms and about protections against chronic GSI overwork. In stark contrast, HR presented a very disappointing counterproposal on salaries, which was identical to the offer they had previously presented to us – and they have communicated a refusal to move further. It’s time to make some phone calls: Visit bit.ly/RingRingGEO for more details on our action this week to flood administrators’ phone lines!

The next bargaining session is scheduled for Friday, April 10th.