The University Record, March 18, 2002

Child care sticking issue for GEO negotiations

By Julie Peterson
Office of the Vice President for Communications

Strikers picket in front of LS&A (Photo by Bill Wood, U-M Photo Services)
The University and the Graduate Employees Union (GEO) continued to meet in contract negotiations as of Friday afternoon (March 15), but had not reached a settlement by the time the Record went to press. The major area of disagreement continued to be provisions related to child care.

A one-day walkout staged by the union March 11 was peaceful, and University officials indicated that disruption to the campus’ activities was minimal. Between 100 and 200 picketers were tallied at academic buildings around campus. Academic departments reported that the majority of classes met as scheduled, although undergraduate student attendance at some classes was light. A number of contract employees working on construction sites around campus also chose to honor the picket lines for the day.

In bargaining sessions following the walkout, GEO focused on four remaining economic proposals and the University gave its response to these proposals as a package. In discussions of tuition grants, lump-sum payments and health care for graduate student instructors appointed at low fractions (below .25), the two sides were not far apart. Increased tuition support and an additional stipend for low-fraction GSIs have been proposed by both GEO and the University, with differences remaining in the dollar amounts of the support. Both proposed allowing low-fraction employees to participate in Grad Care insurance by paying the premiums.

On wages, both parties agreed that graduate employees should receive increases equal to the average LS&A faculty salary increase. The union asked for a guaranteed minimum of 4.5, and 5 percent in the three years of the contract while the University offered a salary increase floor of 2.5 percent per year.

GEO continued to identify child care as its major concern. “Child care is a very real issue,” said Jeff Frumkin, director of academic human resources. “However, we must pursue a solution that addresses the needs of the entire campus community.”

The University is proceeding with a committee to implement recommendations on child care developed by a joint Rackham-Center for the Education of Women (CEW) task force. GEO was offered representation on that committee. In addition, Interim Provost Paul Courant agreed to supplement two existing child care scholarship programs as needed to ensure that any graduate student employee who meets the eligibility criteria can receive assistance with child care expenses.

The union asked the University to guarantee 150 new half-time slots (60 specifically for infants) for children of graduate student instructors and staff assistants in University-sponsored child care facilities, on- or off-campus, available between 7 a.m. and 10:30 p.m. In addition, GEO proposed that every GSI and GSSA receive $2,000 in child care assistance for the first child and $1,000 for each additional child per semester, regardless of the GSI’s appointment fraction or financial need.

Frumkin said he believes the University’s economic proposals are generous and reasonable, particularly in light of the difficult budget year ahead. U-M graduate student instructors already are among the most highly compensated in the country, he noted.

GEO announced it would vote March 17 on whether to begin an open-ended strike on March 19 if an agreement is not reached by that date. The University proposed bringing in a state mediator, but as of press time the union had declined mediation.

Updated information about the negotiations can be found on the Web at www.umich.edu/~urel/gsi-sa/negotiations.html.