As a teaching assistant (TA) at the University of Michigan, I have a problem. During my TA training, I was informed as to a number of policies and procedures at the U-M, including the Graduate Employees Organization (GEO). The GEO representatives informed us that GEO was a great organization and we were told how much GEO could help us. We were also selectively informed about the cost. In short, I was told that GEO deserved my money, and they would get it whether I wanted to give it to them or not. I did not like this, but I accepted it because I had not been informed of any other option, and if I became a GEO member I could at least vote. Fortunately, I misplaced my membership form, and never joined the union.
Recently, I received the GEO Newsletter in my campus mailbox, and read that GEO has decided to endorse political candidates. I continued reading to see which candidates GEO would like us to vote for in the upcoming election. It did not surprise me to find that the GEO supports Wolpe for Michigans governor. I was surprised, however, at some the reasons that were given. My biggest shock was the stated position regarding the agency shop. GEO seems very concerned that if Gov. Engler is re-elected, the agency shop will be made illegal and that will make it harder for GEO to recruit members and survive as a union.
Perhaps GEO should take their own wording as an indication of their members feelings about their organization. If the only way GEO can survive as an organization is to force TAs to pay a fee whether or not they are members, maybe it is time for GEO to stop surviving. I do not claim to know the exact statistics regarding how many of the TAs want to be in a union, but I doubt very much that GEO knows either. As a simple solution to this problem, I would like to propose that a simple survey instrument be administered by an independent agency outside of the GEO. The information provided by such a survey would be very important in determining the future direction of GEO. Some questions to which I would like to know the answers are:
Should membership in GEO be voluntary?
Should those who opt not to join be forced to pay a fee equivalent to GEO union dues?
If you did not have to pay a representation fee, would you have joined the GEO?
I have worked in both union and non-union shops, and I found them both to be acceptable. Now, as a TA, I am faced with what seems to be a very confrontational system of the agency shop. I feel as if GEO is stealing the money that I have worked very hard to earn, and they seem to think that taking my money is their right.
Please consider a survey of all TAs at the U-M. If I am of the minority opinion, the survey will support GEO and be used to validate its existence. If my opinion is widely held among the TAs at the U-M, maybe it is time for a change.
Jeffrey J. Bodwin, teaching assistant, Department of Chemistry