University and GEO settle contract
Bargaining teams for the University and the Graduate Employees Organization (GEO) have reached a tentative agreement on a three-year contract that includes an annual salary increase for graduate student instructors (GSIs) equal to LSA faculty, a number of enhancements to the benefits package and an increase in the child-care subsidy.
Salary increases will be at the same level awarded to faculty in LSA with a guaranteed minimum each year of 2.5, 3 and 3 percent, respectively. GSIs appointed at very low fractions will receive higher increases of 5 percent for those appointed at .10, .15 and .20, and 30 percent for those appointed at .05.
Regarding benefits, the University will pay half the contribution toward GradCare health insurance premiums for GSIs appointed at fractions below .25. This proposal replaces the lump-sum payment currently made to low-fraction GSIs, and represents a net increase in compensation. The University also guaranteed that individual co-pays for all GEO members who enroll in GradCare would not increase more than $5 during the life of the contract. Members will continue to be subject to the same health insurance premium-sharing formulas as other University employees.
The University and GEO members returned to the bargaining table March 31, reaching an agreement early in the morning April 1.
"Both bargaining teams deserve credit for the enormous amount of hard work they put in this week in order to reach an agreement," says Associate Provost Philip Hanlon. "This tentative agreement contains many new provisions that will benefit graduate student instructors. I'm very pleased we were able to conclude the negotiations successfully."
The previous contract with GEO was to expire Feb. 1, but both sides agreed to an extension to Feb. 24. When talks that had been underway since November failed to reach agreement, GEO members continued to work and receive all compensation and benefits while negotiations continued.
A number of GEO members participated in a work stoppage March 24. An open-ended strike had been scheduled for today (April 4) in the event the teams did not reach an agreement. The new contract includes language that prohibits strikes.
Additional agreements include:
• Summer health benefits will be provided at University expense for GSIs who are employed in both the fall and winter terms;
• No-cost dental coverage will be provided from the first day of employment, rather than after a waiting period of two terms of employment;
• University-provided life insurance will be offered at no cost to the employee at a benefit level of $30,000;
• GSIs will have access to additional flex benefit plans, including the vision and legal plans, and the ability to purchase additional life insurance;
• Several new categories of protection will be added under the antidiscrimination clause, including gender identity and gender expression;
• The University has committed to defend vigorously against any legal challenges to benefits for same-sex domestic partners of employees. In addition, there is a memorandum of understanding that if a Michigan court rules against any same-sex domestic partner benefits plan similar to the University's, the teams will return to the bargaining table to negotiate a potential resolution;
• The $100 SEVIS fee will be reimbursed for newly enrolled international GSIs beginning in Fall 2005;
• Further improvements will be made to English language testing and training, including an opportunity for international GSIs to test out of any training required during the winter term;
• Paid leave for GSIs for jury duty and witness service will be expanded to include participation in immigration hearings;
• The maximum work hours for a 50 percent appointment will be reduced from 22 hours per week to 20 hours per week, primarily to make sure that international students in the U.S. on F-1 visas will have access to these positions, consistent with their visa restrictions;
• The child-care subsidy will be increased to $1,750 for the first child and $900 each for the second and third children in Fall 2005, and the work hours needed to qualify for the subsidy will be reduced. Beginning in Fall 2006, the child-care subsidy will be indexed to increase by the average tuition percentage increase at U-M child care centers outside the Health System.
"We all feel very positive about the agreementit makes significant progress toward our goals of ensuring access and eliminating discrimination," GEO President David Dobbie says. "It's obviously not everything we were looking for, but it's going to improve the lives of our members, especially those that have been struggling the most."
If ratified by the membership, a process Dobbie expects will take until the second week of April, the new contract will run through March 1, 2008.