It’s Over Because We Won

When I dropped into ABC last night, the mood at the Day 1 post-party was good (not this good, I guess that happened after). They had already received word that negotiations–which the administrations has traditionally refused to even engage in during work action–were going remarkably well. I knew from my time on campus that the walkout had been a strong event. This morning I woke up to find that unlike Monday’s session, the administration hadn’t gone home before the party was over. In fact, they sat with us until we reached a tentative deal that mooted a second day’s walkout. Which I feel a little cheated about, because today was the day I was going to spend on the picket line.

Frankly, we won.

Later this week we’ll have a full vote on ratifying the contract, but I’m guessing that’s a formality. I would like to write a real post about my experience of the negotiations and the job action, and maybe I’ll have a little more time to do such things now that the union action is settling down. But it feels good to know we did something for those who will come after. And to those folks who will labour under this contract I say: you’re welcome, and remember us when you sit down at the table to set the working conditions for the next lot.

GEO Bargaining 4: We Don’t Mean To Write Your Counter For You

Back in negotiations, back in Palmer Commons. I have arrived as always late in discussions.

(earlier sessions: 1, 2, 3.)

We’re discussing getting benefits to people who work during the weird summer termsl. Both sides are struggling with the fact that nobody ever seems to know practically until the term is ended who is and who isn’t going to get a GSI position during the summer.

Now we’re arguing that mental health benefits should be treated with the same seriousness as physical health. People with mental health issues shouldn’t have to worry that their support is going to time out. Apparently the administration has been resisting this idea and we have resisted their resistance.

Admin is responding that they think it may not be as big a deal, considering the numbers of users, as we think it is. Maybe, they’re not willing to stand on that yet. I think.

We’re discussing what the status of pending national legislation on that topic. It’s a little lesson in politics. Kennedy politics. Kennedy family ties. Very educational. I’m just a bill and I’m sitting here on capitol hill.

Now we’re discussing drug co-pays (I think) and caps on increases to those. It’s going up in any case, we’re discussing how much.

It sounds to me like we’re making a few revisions to our proposals to soften them in non-core areas.

That appears to include some language around bereavement.

Discussing development of educational materials (about? Something about employee benefits or contract. I’m missing this), who does it and how it’s distributed. Nitty gritty stuff this.

Wow, I haven’t hear “let’s do that” as “let us do that” in a while. Formalized. Very formalized.
We’re breaking to do some document printing, but first the admin and student bargaining squads are phoning each other so they can get their respective numbers into their cells. And discussing what custom ringtones they will have. It’s friendly.

I think it’s important to note that I’m basing these paraphrases on my de-contextualized and uniformed impressions on what’s going on. These are mostly guesses, and are probably substantially inaccurate.

Now we are lamenting the fact that this bargaining session has been characterized by a lack of available rooms for meeting. And the dissapearance of the “Haberman Room”. Apparently our veteran negotiators have fond memories.

But we’ve committed to meeting again soon. And making progress. How to the bargaining teams possibly have time for this? Correction: how do people who don’t get paid to do this (our side) possibly have time for this?

That’s it for the day.

We’re high fiving for getting parental leave. Oh hey! We got three weeks of paid leave on top of 3 weeks of parental leave, and if you decide not to come back, you can keep benefits if your department agrees. Hey!

We’re set to start bargaining 4 times a week. Jeez.

Membership meeting on the 18th, featuring a vote on a strike.

Rally on the 20th, starting at 2:30 on the diag, going to the cube, which will be within earshot of the monthly Regent’s meeting. We hope to deliver an over-sized novelty letter to them, petitioning for their support, which we have some hope for. From there the rally will move to bargaining in the Union.

This has been our last session in the Palmer Commons. From now on, bargaining on the real central campus. Spencer: where the hell isn’t the Palmer Commons?

GEO Bargaining, Pt III

I’ve arrived during the after-session. Negotiation has ceased and we’re talking amongst ourselves. I’m only briefly in the room, but what I’m hearing is:

The administration is starting to get frustrated, because they are expecting us to back off and we aren’t and aren’t and aren’t.

Sounds to me like we’re heading towards a walkout.

Ah yes, it’s announced that the Stewards Council has voted to propose a March 25th/26th walk out. So depending what happens from here, next mass meeting will include a vote on whether that will happen or not.

Contracts are for 3 years. During the last two negotiations, there have been 1 day work stoppages which have been successful in moving the administration. So this would be a small escalation. Note that other unions (particularly construction) will likely respect any picket lines. This wouldn’t be a strike, which is an indefinite action which only ceases when a settlement is reached on contract negotiation, but rather a fixed-length demonstration of student willingness.

Before that, there is a planned visibility action on Monday for the diag. Specifics TBA.

And we’re done.

Earlier sessions: 1, 2.

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.

Liveblogging the GEO Contract Negotiations

Well here we are in the Koessler Room of the Michigan League. Violet-tinted windows let the late-afternoon, late-winter light into the wood paneled room. There’s a big table across the front of the room. On the far side of the table are a number of well-kempt academic types. On our side are a range of hastily cleaned-up, slightly underfed (vegans? smokers?) studenty looking types.

The rest of the room has chairs, some empty, some occupied with less-well-kempt slightly underfed studenty looking types. The predominant sound is the clicking of laptop keys. The studenty types at the table occasionally ask a question, slowly and carefully. The man in the center of the academic types answers slowly and carefully. There are pauses in between the questions and the answers and the questions.

As each new section of the contract comes up, paper print-outs are passed out throughout the crowd. These copies show the contract proposal as submitted by the union, with the administration’s response superimposed in the form of MS Word-style revision mark-up. That mark-up is mostly in the form of large-scale deletions.

It’s not a particularly exciting event to live-blog. Most of the substantive issues are dealt with very quietly and in small-scale language.

Here’s the gist as I see it:

Your request of pay raises in keeping with cost-of-living increase: No.

Your request for same-sex benefits: meh.

Your request for pay during required training events: No.

Your request for partial tuition waivers for small-fractional GSIs: No.

Your request for tuition waivers for quarter+ fraction GSIs: No.

The key words here are: “current contract language”. As in the old one. AT least we’re not losing ground I guess.

The justification is: we can’t deal with that proposal until we know what the financial impact of those other proposals is. Repeat as necessary.

Best moment so far: one of our guys asks “of the substantive proposals we’ve put forward, can you think of a single one which you not turning down?” Followed by 20 seconds or so of silence. Then an “okay, moving along…”.

Us: “Given that almost everything you’ve given back to us is just “orginial contract language”, I’m a little surprised that it took you until today to give it to us…”

Also good (but again, the good stuff mostly comes from people getting frustrated and saying stuff which probably isn’t particularly productive):

Us: “You’ve framed this as a series of economic “repercussions”, which sounds really bad, we’ve framed it as an investment in people who will bring more money to the school. Do you reject that philosophy?”

Them: “Well, can you ask a yes or no question?”

Us: “It was.”

Them: “With respect to your proposal for professional leave, the language you’ve proposed leaves it open to being as much as a term..”

Us: “Uh, I think you mean pregnancy leave…”

Them: “Oh right sorry.”

Us: “Yeah ‘I have to go to a conference, it lasts 4 months”.

Them: “Well, actually, that could happen under the language you’ve proposed for professional leave too”.

Oh snap.

Us: “yes, so you’ve struck the word (inaudible), because it’s passive and unclear I suppose…”

Other us: “…ask an english major…”

Them: “we’ll check that with our english majors…”

And so on. Scintillating material. Now we’re negotiating the number of copies of the contract to be printed. Vigorously.

american apparel, union buster, act 2

So I’m actually planning to get some tshirts printed up. And after this, I guess I won’t be using American Apparel shirts. But I wanted to get their side of the story, so I sent this email. We’ll see what they have to say.

Dear American Apparel,

I’m going to get some shirts printed. I was planning to use American Apparel shirts, as most of the people I know have done in the past, mostly because I understand your clothing to be an alternative to sweatshop-made products. However, I had assumed from your mission statement:

“While apparel is a universal necessity that transcends almost all cultural and socioeconomic boundaries, most garments are made in exploitative settings. We hope to break this paradigm.”

that “made in the US” also meant “union made”. There are stories that this not true, and that American Apparel may be engaging in anti-union behaviour, including threatening to shut down a plant if the workers organized.

Is this true? If I choose to use American Apparel shirts, I’ll be paying a significant premium over other options. I don’t want to be spending that money if your company isn’t living up to it’s own marketing about socially responsible manufacturing.

I look forward to your response,