Back at the GEO Contract Negotiations

Hurrah, here we are again. This week, the U Michigan Graduate Employee Organization contract negotiations have been shifted to the Palmer Commons. Earlier today the word on the street was that not many students had shown up for the bargaining round. Maybe that’s why they’ve tried to jam us into “Great Lakes North” — one of the smaller of the convention rooms in the post-space-age ultrabunker that is the Palmer Commons. Palmer Commons always weirds me out. How can a university need its own convention center at the scale of most mid-sized cities? Dunno, but I guess we do. And here we are, in one of the smaller rooms. Which is to say, a fairly large one. Holding the event as far off central campus as we can get without going to North Campus may have been a clever trick. Having it in a room with fewer chairs may not have been so clever. I don’t know when it happened, but at this time students have filled the chairs and are literally stacking up on the floor. Ha ha. It looks good for our side.

(update: GEO, never slow on the button action, is distributing buttons which say “Where the hell is Palmer Commons?” over a map. cute.)

Are appearances really that important? According to everything the bargaining committee has to say about it, yes.

Earlier I had a quick phone chat with Cassidy of the bargaining team. He informed that today we were going to talk about salaries, bridge pay, and maybe access to benefits. I was on the radio so I wasn’t here, so I don’t know how the first couple of things went, but now that I’m here, it sounds like we’re on benefits.

Word is someone just gave testimony regarding their own attempts to access health benefits, and the failure of the existing system to help her. Now we’re talking about “existing conditions”, and how much the administration is willing to bend to accomadate. The administration has inserted langauge that they aren’t willing to “fundamentally alter the operations of a department”, or some such, and we want to know just what that means. Does that mean at all? A little? We’re being reassured that means they’re trying to avoid moving departments to another building. We seem skeptical that they might be using that as a smokescreen to have an opt-out for any changes at all. They’ve committed to letting us know.

Hey, it sounds like we just talked them into admitting that some departments are, with regard to their employees-with-disabilities obligations, “perhaps unaware of their responsibilities, to put it charitably”.

“Whatever it is we’re doing now, isn’t producing results”. They understand, and they’re committed to investigating further.

And that’s all our proposals. Sorry I missed the salary and bridge pay talks. And now my battery is dieing.

Oh hey, I have a backup battery. While I was offline the meeting broke up for caucases. While our respective bargaining teams holed up for discussions, we’ve had a summary of the day’s events, and now we’re discussing issues.

It’s too bad I was offline for the summary, but what stuck out for me is that we’re *still* expecting the administration to push back against equal access to benefits for same-sex partners. It seems like they would like to help if it just cost them some money, but they aren’t willing to make any administrative or policy change. Good grief. University of Michigan, home of diversity, as long as it’s effortless diversity.

Now in discussions, another student has offered their experiences with trying to squeeze accomodation for learning disabilities out of the structure. Based on their experiences, it sounds as though the idea is there that there is support in place, but you can’t actually access it.

I’m blown away by this story from a psychology student: during their GSI orientation, they are informed that they are hired at the .5 fraction, and they are expected to work 40 hours a week. Which is of course exactly x2 the actual number. Then when someone asks about that, they are informed that, yes, technically the contract says 20 but if they insist on pushing that number they will be resented by their supervisors, not receive reference letters, and be resented by their fellow GSI’s who will have to take up the slack. Un Be Freaking Leavable. I want to walk out on that right now.

And now a team of undergrads — Students Organizing for Labour and Economic Equality have arrived with an enormous cardboard craft clenched fist/musclely heart valentine for the adminstration GEO. Awesome! Somebody send me a photo . Now they’re making a lovely speech of solidarity!

“the heart is a muscle the size of a fist”
“GEO, our hearts and minds are with you”
and the scrap paper they used is from printouts of the contract. hell yeah.

update: Dave Rowland provides photos of SOLE’s valentine, which is clearly in the late stages of advanced awesomeness:

SOLEs valentine to GEO 1

SOLEs valentine to GEO 2

Another point from the discussions — regarding bridge pay, we gave them a contract that had a provision for some pay and benefits over the summer, during which we aren’t supposed to exist financially. They gave us back a copy of the contract with that entire provision deleted. We gave it back to them with it back in, unchanged. Weee!

We’ve recieved a comment from the former negotiating head for the U Vic TAs. Solidarity.

Now we’re waiting for the admin team to return so they can walk through our SOLE team and past the huge (4 ft!) valentine. And here they are. Fun.

Some scuttlebut: talk of a grade-in event to support the next bargaining session, or the one after.
Other scuttlebut exists, but I don’t know if it’s for distribution yet.

Battery is dieing again. I can’t imagine it’s going to get that exciting again. But who knows?

I figured after the break, as we head into dinner time, we would have fewer people in the room. I’m now surrounded by floor-sitters to the point that it’s going to be hard to get out.

There’s an option to extend the contract for a few weeks/ months as a stop-gap measure to extend bargaining. They administration is remind us of that. We are indicating that we will be willing to discuss that next week. Given the state of bargaining and, winter break coming up…

One thing I’ve never quite understood: why do all 6 of us talk, and they have 8 seats filled, but only one does the talking, plus a couple who occasionally raise their hand and are acknowledged.

And we’re done.


I am so stoked to read about open bargaining. I sent your last bargaining blog to Melissa at CUPE 4163 (UVic Educational Employees Union) – remember her? She’s the business manager now. Open bargaining rocks. I’m looking forward to hearing how things develop!

Wow, thanks for the blow by blow man, it’s almost like being there. It kind of makes me nostalgic for my GEO days. Hope it all works out and people get what they need. I never had any problems with my benefits or too many hours being requested from me. The bio department was great actually, super helpful. The worst thing they made me do was pith frogs…but I guess for 30K, my morals can be flexible.
But what i really want to know is, did they sing? I remember there was always singing…

No singing this time, maybe they’re worried the administration team wouldn’t join in. But definitely yes singing at the last couple big meetings.

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