The University Record, March 8, 1999

Update on GEO negotiations from the provost

Editor’s Note: This is the text of a letter Provost Nancy Cantor has sent to the University faculty.


I am writing to bring you up to date regarding negotiations between the University and the Graduate Employees Organization (GEO). A University bargaining team composed of faculty from LS&A, Engineering and Music and senior staff from Human Resources has been meeting twice a week with the GEO bargaining team since Oct. 21, 1998. The negotiating team also meets weekly with an advisory group consisting of other faculty, associate deans, representatives of the Provost’s Office and the library system. While the negotiations have certainly not progressed as rapidly as we had hoped, tentative agreements have been reached in seven contract areas.

You have probably heard that GEO plans a walkout on Wednesday, March 10, and Thursday, March 11. Even more disquieting is the statement by GEO that if their demands are not met by the University, and “open-ended” strike would be called for and begin on March 15.

The possibility of these job actions distresses me for a number of reasons. Both the walkout and the possible strike threaten to disrupt the education of our undergraduate students. Equally important, I believe that the University has been responsive to the financial and educational needs of our graduate student instructors.

Although other issues have been discussed, at the most recent negotiating sessions the GEO has formally narrowed its focus to three remaining issues—salary, calculation of employment fractions and coverage of living expenses of international students who are receiving training to become GSIs. We believe that we have made fair and generous proposals with respect to the first two issues. The issue regarding international students, for reasons that I discuss below, needs to be dealt with outside of the formal negotiations. Here, too, however, I believe that our policy is generous and responsive to the GEO’s concerns.

Employment Fractions. At the center of our efforts to improve the circumstances of our GSIs is our proposal to change the employment fraction of GSIs who work between 16.5 and 19 hours per week.

Currently these students are appointed at 40 percent of a full-time stipend. Under our proposal, they will be paid at a 50 percent rate, increasing their wages by 25 percent. The resources necessary to implement this pay increase, which applies to over 500 students a semester, will come from my office, and they are being provided under the condition that the schools and colleges do not increase the amount of work required of GSIs who are currently appointed with 40 percent appointments.

We focused on this group of GSIs in part because the GEO emphasized their plight in their discussion of providing a living wage. As it happens, our proposal meets the GEO’s living wage calculation and then some—the stipend for GSIs with 50 percent appointments in the new system will be $1,416 a month in the current academic year.

A recent survey of other Big Ten institutions indicates that stipends at Michigan are among the best. In addition, GSIs at Michigan with appointments of 0.25 or greater are given full tuition waivers. After the proposed change in fraction, GSI compensation will clearly exceed that available from other universities.

The total value of the package for a 50 percent appointment is typically over $16,000 per term for a pre-candidate. Under our offer, the vast majority of GSIs will be appointed at or above.

Wages and Benefits. We have offered to continue to tie wages to the growth in faculty salaries in LS&A. This plan is in effect in the current contract, and has led to increases of 3.1 percent, 4.0 percent and 4.6 percent, respectively, over the last three years.

In the event of a poor faculty merit year, the GSI stipend is protected by the existence of a “floor” of 2.5 percent below which the increase cannot go. The health benefits that GSIs receive are the same as are available to faculty and staff.

International Student Training. This has been one of the most vexing issues in the negotiations, and can only be understood by going into the history.

International graduate students who wish GSI appointments in LS&A are required to attend a teaching workshop provided by the Center for research on Learning and Teaching and the English Language Institute.

In response to concerns expressed three years ago, the Rackham Graduate School and the College of Literature, Science, and the Arts jointly developed a pilot fellowship program to support newly-arrived international students who were attending the August workshop. The idea was the students might not have a place to stay, that we were requiring them to take the workshop, and that we should therefore assure that they could afford room and board.

Unfortunately, there was confusion surrounding who was eligible for this program. However, as Dean of Rackham, I personally worked to ensure that all eligible students received the promised support.

With financial help from the Provost’s Office, the policy has now been clarified, refined and expanded, providing students with room, board, and a modest fellowship. A description can be found on the LS&A administrative Web site, www.lsa.umich.edu/dean/bud/apptpolicy/gsi/intgsi.html.

As a matter of both educational policy and sound labor practices, we cannot include the international student training in the contract. The reason is that the students who receive that training are not GSIs and hence not members of the GEO. However, it is the policy of this office that throughout the life of the contract we will provide adequate living support to international students who take the training course.

The University bargaining team will continue to meet with GEO to resolve the remaining issues. We have urged the GEO to agree to mediation. With mediation, a third person (mediator) would be introduced into the negotiations to assist in a settlement. While often very helpful in getting the two sides together, decisions made with a mediator are not binding. However, we are confident that under our proposals the membership of the GEO, and all of our graduate student instructors, can get back to their scholarship and teaching.