Arbor Update

Ann Arbor Area Community News

GEO Job Action Imminent

23. March 2005

According to the GEO website, a strong majority of voters elected to hold a one day job action. Reports from the bargaining team indicate a “lack of response to the issues raised by the Union over the last four months.

A meeting will be held tonight, Wednesday at 7pm to see if the University administration has worked to avoid the job action.

In the worst case scenario, the University administration continues the unfair bargaining. (in my experience, an overabundance of “no’s” without much reason.) and GEO is forced to continue with the job action planned for tomorrow. Thursday Strike Plans

This is the latest newsletter which explains the issues from GEO’s point of view.

My experience as staff for GEO (1997-2003) is that the hard work by GEO members to present issues and solutions to the University administration is met with unwillingness to bargain in good faith. They force a job action through that unwillingness.

If only they negotiated in good faith, the contract would have been finished by February 1st. Please contact GEO for more information or if you have questions. (or me)

In Solidarity, Mark

(p.s. these are my own views and not of Arbor Update or of GEO)

  1. I didn’t strike. I am a grad student researcher who picked up a course because there’s not money to pay for enough instructors to give undergrads a decent education. It’s not the university; it’s the whole damn state in the worst recession since the Depression.

    May I also say this: I want to be able to offer alternative point of view without getting morally lynched be people who are sure they have corner on what’s “right.” Socioeconomic status is positively correlated with affluence. One of the key measures of SES is education. So here are a group of the highest SES people on earth, and they’re whining because they might have to pay $20/month for health insurance for a family? Are they crazy? How much do regular people pay for health insurance? And insurance with far less coverage than offered by the university. You want something to strike about—go get a real job. I’ve had one, and this grad school thing is a comfortable gig in comparison.
       —JennyD    Mar. 24 '05 - 10:42PM    #
  2. Before anyone jumps on you about this, I want to say that I completely understand your take… it took me a little while to be fully convinced about the strike, myself. I too feel like we get an insanely great gig (and wish I could get one of these every semester!) and that there’s something a little amiss about us overly-privileged grad students singing labor songs from the early 20th century and identifying with Cuban peasants and coalminers. On the other hand, I’m a healthy white single heterosexual male with cheap rent and no kids and a terminal Master’s student, and I have come to understand that for a lot of other students these issues are really important and they do expect more out of the university, for one reason or another. Some of the demands seem more reasonable than others and I honestly don’t have the union fervor I probably should have (and am probably going to get a fun lecture from one of my pals who are really active in the union for saying all this) and also understand the University’s side, but at the same time I felt it was my duty not to hold class today, take a picket shift, and support those for whom these demands will really make a difference and also support those who have been working so hard at the bargaining table. I trust they know what they are doing, and if this walkout gets us to a contract sooner, then I’m more than for it. It wasn’t fun for myself, my students or my professor today, but the last thing anyone wants is an extended strike…
       —Brandon    Mar. 25 '05 - 01:52AM    #
  3. For my part, I will stand with basically any union that sees a need to strike. (Even when I disagree with the particular goals of the strike, I see labor actions as a valid part of a market economy, and, since there exist people who will take action specifically to violate strikes (TJ? Are you there?), I have to take action specifically to honor strikes in order to balance out the meta-market actions and allow the market actions to run their course. :) )

    Meanwhile, I don’t know what the health care demands of the GEO are, except for designated beneficiaries, which I think is totally not going to happen (but it is not GEO’s fault that they need to ask for it – if Michigan had not passed an unreasonable proposal, GEO would not have a need to try to find funky ways to do what has to be done), and transgender coverage, which I think is a completely necessary demand.

    Actually, transgender medical coverage (along with protection of gender identification and gender display) is among the reasons why I am extremely glad that GEO exists. If this sort of thing is being asked for in GEO’s negotiations, it means that nobody else exists who can effectively fight for it (otherwise, it would already exist, and GEO wouldn’t have to ask for it). It needs to exist, and, if GEO is the only group that has the power to get it, I totally support them, even if, along with these things, they’re also asking for things I don’t necessarily care about.

    Oh, and living wages: also good.

    So, Jenny, I have no intention of “morally lynching” you, and I agree that the entire state of Michigan is in dire straits, but I also wholly support the GEO action because I think that some of the things they are demanding are so important that I’m willing to ignore whatever frivolity may be lumped in with the good stuff. YMMV.
       —Murph    Mar. 25 '05 - 09:44AM    #
  4. JennyD,

    While the U does receive money from the state, it is far out-weighed by the money from the U’s own funds.

    While I was GEO staff from 1997-2003, I met dozens of working class people who said “If it were not for GEO, I would have never been able to afford graduate school.” I think the description of graduate students as an elite class of people at the U is a misrepresentation based on how people feel the undergrads are. Yes, certainly I did meet very privileged people, who were very cool, but I also met 100’s of people just like us.
       —Mark    Mar. 25 '05 - 10:48AM    #
  5. I hear you. I thought hard before teaching my class.

    But here are a couple of reasons why I did:

    I never heard anything from the GEO about their “demands.” Except a weblink.

    I got a letter at my house asking me to send money to the GEO, but it wasn’t clear what the money would go for or why I should send it.

    There was an assumption from the way things were worded that all grad students agreed with the GEO. There seemed to be no attempt to “explain” the position to those of us who didn’t agree. The position was more, hey, make the effort to find out. How about hey, make the effort to ensure that your constituents know why they should support you.

    The wording of the GEO emails and such gave the impression that the group was taking an “ideological” bargaining stance. That is, we would rather lose than compromise. It’s militant and demanding. Rather than a “pluralistic” bargaining stance that allows for a win-win, for both sides to come away with something and compromise to get it.

    That’s just my impression, which is that of an outsider. Just something to consider for future strikes.
       —JennyD    Mar. 25 '05 - 11:12AM    #
  6. I’m with Brandon on this one. I am not affiliated with the University of Michigan in any way, shape or form (hopefully in the future), but I was a grad student at a state school in Ohio for a number of years before finally graduating last December. I had the exact same status (race, sexual orientation, no kids), but many others didn’t, especially the Ph.D students, who often had small families to support. I think I mentioned some of this on the AAiO forum. A lot of the union rhetoric (here and elsewhere) turns me off, but obnoxious sloganeering doesn’t, in the end, obscure the essential rightness of the cause. Jenny, I understand your misgivings, too, but this “civilian” is on the GEO’s side, with all its shortcomings.
       —Lazaro    Mar. 25 '05 - 11:54AM    #
  7. So, Jenny, I know a lot of my grad student friends feel the same way you do: GEO annoys even to those they’re trying to help. I’ve heard my PhD friends say, “If GEO calls my cell phone, I’m totally crossing the picket line even if I don’t have class.” “How does GEO have the nerve to send so many e-mails ordering me not to go to the library when they haven’t even convinced me of their position?”

    Of course, the people doing organizing for GEO are going to naturally be the people who feel The Very Strongest that what GEO is doing is Very Important and also Very Obviously Important. If people just sort of thing GEO’s goals are good things, then they’re not going to personally devote their time to being GEO organizers. GEO assumes everybody is willing to either assume that GEO’s position is good or else go investigate their position. GEO assumes, furthermore, that you want to hear from them. GEO assumes that letting you know what you should do to help out is more helpful to you than letting you know what’s going on.

    In my opinion, as somebody who thinks GEO is mostly right, GEO really needs to do a better job of communicating with the grad student body. Information needs to be presented in a method that is both non-intrusive and does not require effort to gather. (How to do this? I have no idea.)
       —Murph    Mar. 25 '05 - 03:10PM    #
  8. Two more thoughts, then I stop:

    You know who likes strikes more than anyone? Whoever owns Amer’s. That person made out like a bandit yesterday as professors and students trooped over there for class. In all, enriching Amer’s seems like the unintended consequence of this.

    Second, if the GEO really wants to strike at the heart of the university, it needs to stop with the picketing and yelling and do something really devious. Consider…if you’re an undergrad, knowing class will be cancelled is great. No inconvenience. Go out for lunch, sleep in, whatever. No one cares. Not even the university. Picketing the university is kind of trite, actually. It’s easy to ignore because it’s so common and has happened so many times before. The picketers looked like caricatures.

    You want to strike at the university? Declare a silent Monday. Have all the GSIs show up, and all the students. But no one teaches. The GSIs bring playing cards and magazines and make the students spend time in class…with no teaching. That would really piss off the undergrads and make a ruckus. University officials would hear about from angry parents and students. And it would be really hard to enforce good teaching. According to the contract, the GSIs have a time and place clause, but not one that requires teaching in any particular way. In this scenario, though, the marchers and bullhorn owners would be out of luck.

    To do that would require that the GEO actually mobilize its constituency, rather than paint a few signs. BUt it would be a much more effective tactic,in my opinion.
       —JennyD    Mar. 25 '05 - 04:12PM    #
  9. Hello all – I am new to this forum, though I found out about the discussion from some of the people in GEO. As an organizer for the union, I am, as Murph said, Very Committed and have given more time than I probably should if I am going to be able to maintain my grades while at U-M. Many of the things that you bring up are shortcomings that we at GEO will take to heart and ensure that we do the next time. All but three of us involved in this organization from U-M are volunteers – the University has an entire paid staff at Human Resources who get paid to work on bargaining. And, most of us are new to this – our membership essentially changes over every third year, making it difficult to make sure that mistakes aren’t repeated. Thank you for your thoughtful and constructive criticism.

    There are two comments that I feel particularly inclined to comment on, however. While many GSIs are from backgrounds with high SES, I know of plenty that would not be able to afford U-M without the benefits that GEO had to fight for in negotiations like tuition waivers and health care, both things that GEO had to walk out to obtain. It was not through the generosity of the U that we obtained these things.

    The second issue is the division between people who are “real workers” and those who are not. I was at picketing sites at two construction sites in the medical center complex yesterday and talked to dozens of laborers, abestos workers, pipefitters and steelworkers who walked off their jobs to support us. They supported us, talked to us and told us how great it is that we were union brothers. It was a powerful and moving experience. The construction sites, with the exception of a few non-union employees and managers working were silent. And buildings not being built on time costs the University money – something they care more about than classes not being taught for a day.

    I appreciate your willingness to express your skepticism and opening a dialogue about these issues. And, I hope that people who support the strike learn from you rather than morally condemning you.
       —MikeB    Mar. 25 '05 - 04:51PM    #
  10. Hey JennyD,

    I picketed yesterday and took the risk of looking like a caricature. I think your ideas on how to strike are very compelling—I wish more people like you had joined more people like us who, despite our many misgivings, stood out there yesterday if only to declare that no, we will not stand for homophobia, classism, or being held to ransom by corporate behavior.

    Thanks for sending your suggestion online—can I encourage and request you to make your presence felt more strongly in GEO?
    SN.
       —SN    Mar. 25 '05 - 04:54PM    #
  11. A big part of JennyD’s criticisms and Murph’s criticisms of GEO is that GEO is not doing a good job of communicating issues and that GEO’s rhetorical style implies that dissent is not welcome. As a former grad student and a former GEO member, my experience was that there is plenty of discussion within GEO, including divergent points of view on issues, strategies, tactics, and just about everything else. In the months leading up to contract talks, GEO attempts to develop concensus among its members about the issues that are important to them. And then GEO leadership attempts to speak with one voice to the university, the public and the membership, in an attempt to have maximum impact for its members. But even then, divergent voices are heard within the organization.

    If GEO has trouble communicating its message effectively, it’s because the few people who are willing to get active end up stretched too thin, especially at times like these. I can tell you, Murph and JennyD and others, that the GEO leadership would be glad to have your help. And they’d be glad to have you trying to influence them from within the union.
       —JimE    Mar. 25 '05 - 04:59PM    #
  12. hey jenny and others-

    it’s nice to see a genuine dialogue!!
    i was on the picket lines yesterday for a good chunk of time, and there are several reasons that come to mind for why picketing is a good strategy (i’m sure others could think of even more!):
    1. it is visible, informing and educating people who didn’t really know about the issues
    2. it is disruptive to the University’s functioning because it WILL prevent some people from going in to work or school (including other unionized workers, like many construction workers who generously and on principle don’t cross lines and risk losing a day’s wages to support us… which slows down the U’s work on new buildings)
    3. here’s a consequentialist argument: it works! In the past, GEO has had much better luck getting movement from the U after walkouts than before.

    yesterday was just flexing out muscles to show the Administration that we CAN have an impact, we DO care, and we WILL go out for the issues we care about.

    your strategy was an interesting one. you should come to stewards meetings and get involved! ;) i think there are major disadvantages to alienating the undergrad population though; we want to have their support, and we want them to understand that what happens to GSIs as a group (our compensation and benefits) does affect their education.

    now, as far as not getting out information to constituents… i wonder what department you’re in? i’m not a steward right now, but i have been in the past, and i get involved in GEO organizing off and on… it is a HUGE challenge to reach people! and GEO tries really hard to visit people in their offices, get to know what people’s concerns are, and share information about what is going on.

    GEO is a very unique little beast. we are a much more democratic union than most; members have a LOT of voice in determining the positions that get taken, anyone can become a steward, and on attending your third (i think that’s the number) stewards meeting, you can vote in decisions that affect the direction of the union.

    i’m sorry that you felt untouched by the efforts to reach out and not only inform/educate people, but also learn more about YOUR concerns as a GSI/grad student.

    one thing i will say, if you are not a member (ie: if you checked the box saying you actively don’t want to be a part of the union), you will not be pursued as much because, well, you’re not a member! you’ve said you’re not interested! and while GEO would love to have your interest, realistically, given the stretched time all grad students have and the challenge it is to reach all GEO members, nonmembers are not at the top of the list for office visiting and phone banking.

    a new thought:
    one thing that i find interesting when i’m on the picket line is how many people seem to cross without having any moral sense of what it means to cross a line. for a lot of people, probably more for people from blue collar families, you just. don’t. cross. the. line. no matter who it is, or what they’re asking for, you stand in solidarity. i am always amazed at how little that ethic appears to be in evidence at UM.

    on the other hand, i was raised wealthy and had NO CLUE. in fact, i was in a unionized work environment before i started grad school and i didn’t even join the union, i think. i mean, i really was clueless. so maybe i shouldn’t be surprised at how many other people are.

    i’ve seen the light, though ;)
    -yael
       —Yael    Mar. 25 '05 - 05:03PM    #
  13. hee hee.
    i think it is so funny that while i was typing my looooong response, three other people responded saying some similar things. we are all ‘on message’... or better said, we all feel pretty strongly that the things we’re saying about GEO being open but organizing being difficult are true!
    -yael
       —Yael    Mar. 25 '05 - 05:06PM    #
  14. Hello all,

    I just want to say this: Since when graduate school at UMICH and elsewhere is just about white heterosexual wealthy kids. I’ve been six years in graduate school, I come from a lower class family, i’m from Spain, I don’t have any money, I can’t work elsewhere because of VISA restrictions. I’m going to graduate with a fair deal of debt. Could you please tell me where the priviledge situation is? I came to the conclusion that those who think that we’re playng the revolution, and just whinning, think in this way, because THEY THENSELVES are in a position of priviledge.

    I’m not going to see any of this, beacuse I’m graduating, but we deserve everything we are asking for, a life with dignity for everybody in this community. And if this sounds like a union slogan so be it!!! I’m tired of working my ass off to teach spanish to people for a salary below the poverty line.

    Solidarity and hasta la victoria siempre!!!

    Luis
       —Luis    Mar. 25 '05 - 05:11PM    #
  15. Speaking of the undergrad population, whatever happened to them re: reading local blogs? I feel like they used to be much more a part of the discussion on the sundry issues we deal with on these websites…
       —Brandon    Mar. 25 '05 - 05:18PM    #
  16. Luis, my main comment about privilege is that we are just about THE most educated people in the world, and generally must have also gotten good educations before being accepted in graduate programs at UM. If you look at my bank account I might not look privileged, but I sure feel lucky to be here and very lucky to have gotten a GSI position. I’m not saying we’re driving around in Lexuses…
       —Brandon    Mar. 25 '05 - 05:23PM    #
  17. Brandon,

    While I’m all for culture, and education, I have to answer with a slogan: I can’t eat culture, education or prestige!!! And I don’t feel lucky to have a GSI position, I feel I got it because I’m, indeed,a highly qualified and cheap worker.

    L
       —Luis    Mar. 25 '05 - 05:39PM    #
  18. I should say one other thing. I’m in education, and I’m quite skeptical of unions because of that. I have seen many teachers unions spend an enormous time trying to teach less and earn more. Or try to limit time spend in professional development. And things like that. I think a union that represents a professional organization has a dual-duty, both to protect and advance calls for improved wages and benefits, but also to work to advance the professional skills and outcomes of its members. IMHO, teachers unions always do the former and rarely do the latter. So…I view union actions individually, on their own merit. Not all unions are equal.

    And, I probably will never be a GSI again. I did it as a favor because I am a really a researcher, but the school has no money to pay for enough GSIs. Really.

    I’ve gotta say, though, I appreciate the conversation here. It is less confrontational than I thought. Plus I am skeptical the minute any group claims it has the corner on moral righteousness, which I haven’t seen here. Thanks.
       —JennyD    Mar. 25 '05 - 05:42PM    #
  19. Are you a PhD student?

    As I said above, I admit that I must be looking at things very differently due to my status as a terminal Master’s student in a department that does not have an undergraduate program. Most of my peers are paying full tuition and working putzy work study jobs (if you want to talk about real cheap labor!) with no benefits and certainly no tuition waiver. So, uh, this is about $7000 less debt I need to go into for working a pretty enjoyable part-time job. Sorry man, I feel very grateful, and I wish I was more angry. I know a lot of people are, and I’ll support the union, but I am personally just happy to be in this position in the first place. And seriously, working 12 hours/week and getting around $800/month? That’s not as cheap as it may seem. Last semester I was a work-study groundskeeper, got no tuition waiver, and definitely got paid less for the number of hours I worked. I’m not trying to sell-out the Union or anything, I’m just trying to explain why maybe not all of us have the same fervor.
       —Brandon    Mar. 25 '05 - 05:45PM    #
  20. Sorry, that was in response to Luis.
       —Brandon    Mar. 25 '05 - 05:47PM    #
  21. Yael –
    I’m a staffperson at the U (not a student), and I’m wondering whether you’re questioning why I “crossed” your picket line, since I did go to work on Thursday. It wasn’t for lack of morality or lack of understanding or just plain cluelessness. It was because I didn’t know what your arguments were nor why I should support you, aside from what I read in the Daily (which was unconvincing for either side). I tried GEO’s website in my free minutes early in the week and found only general platitudes on the Strike Platform that anyone would agree with (things like “Fair wages” and “low cost health care” without specifics).

    I appreciate the way JennyD phrased it – “I view union actions individually, on their own merit. Not all unions are equal.” So, I don’t automatically obey those lines – and maybe that’s where you question my morality. I might have considered staying home from work on Thursday if I had had more information; I may agree with GEO’s platform – I just don’t know. So, please don’t judge me for going to work – fill me in, convnice me of the merits of your concerns, and maybe (probably!) I’ll end up being with you.

    This gets back to what Murph is saying about communication and image – and I know there are too few of you and it’s hard. I’m sorry I don’t have suggestions to go with my critique.
       —KateM    Mar. 25 '05 - 06:56PM    #
  22. hi kate-

    thanks for your feedback! i am sorry that i came off sounding like everyone who crossed the picket line was just ignorant or lacked a moral compass. that isn’t at all what i was thinking about! i was thinking in particular about some students (grad and undergrad) who had this vague supportive attitude towards GEO – or even a strong supportive attitude – but still didn’t really have a moral issue with crossing the line.

    i mean, i think people should have a general sense that crossing a picket line DOES mean something—it is a public declaration of a position. however nuanced one’s position is, one of the effects of having a picket line is that it forces people to choose whose ‘side’ they are going to fall on. i mean this as just a basic visual effect. if people are picketing outside your door and you walk through the line, you DO send a message with your action, regardless of the nuances of your actual position.

    some people might resent being forced into that position, of choosing to stand with GEO or the Administration, but that’s part of the purpose of a picket line, as i see it…

    i appreciate everyone’s different perspectives on why they need to go into the buildings, whether they know GEO’s positions, whether they have work to go to, papers to print, meetings to attend… i appreciate and understand those dilemmas. i have the MOST appreciation for staff who risk being fired if they miss work, and on my picket line, no one hassled staff (and in fact a few staff picketed with us on their smoke breaks!) but i think everyone needs to also understand that crossing a picket line is a visible statement that you do not support the people picketing.

    peace,
    yael
       —Yael    Mar. 25 '05 - 08:34PM    #
  23. To me, having a strong sense of solidarity with other working people means believing that they can decide what is best for themselves.

    Yes I do side with people organizations rather than institutional or corporate organizations, no matter the flaws in people organizations. Of which there are many, but the basic principle is that I trust them to make their own decisions.

    Strikes are near the last option a union has to be heard and respected at the bargaining table. Wouldn’t it be great if the university administration bargained in good faith well before this point?

    So, for me it is not on an individual basis, it is a principled stand I take. Workers of the World! Relax. I heard it was a good bargaining session today!

    Thanks for the discussion!
       —Mark    Mar. 26 '05 - 12:26AM    #
  24. Yael, I’ve got to say that I think you’re being foolish. Non-unionized staff employees crossing the picket line because they could be retaliated against if they do not show up for work does NOT constitute them making “a visible statement” that they “do not support the people picketing.” It means they know what they (and their families) can and cannot afford to do re: opposing their employers. The attitude that you evinced in that last post is the kind of thing that makes people think that GEO is just a bunch of bourgeois jerks playing labor activists. Yes, in a perfect world, you just. don’t. cross. the. line. But our world is far from perfect and UM employees have jobs to keep and kids to feed and a rising cost of living in Ann Arbor. Help UPower organize, but don’t tell KateM or anyone else that by going to work they were intentionally, actively opposing GEO. Nuance does matter. Graduate students, of all people, ought to understand that.
       —Joy    Mar. 26 '05 - 01:07AM    #
  25. Joy, I think that it can be accurately said that employees not crossing the picket line “do not support the people picketing enough.” As you say, they are weighing the costs of skipping work with the value (personal + societal) of honoring the strike, as are the GSIs on the picket line, or the construction tradesmen who choose to honor it.

    This suggests to me one possible strategy (and, I am speaking from a position of ignorance – it’s possible this is already happening!); the GEO picketers ought to carry information for UPower and politely hand it to anybody crossing the line. Show that GEO understands that the unorganized staff have a more vulnerable position, and that they care about helping the staff move into an organized position from which they have some ability to negotiate. Considering that our very own Mark Dilley is one of the UPower organizers, this ought to be possible to arrange. :)
       —Murph    Mar. 26 '05 - 10:58AM    #
  26. Murph- I really like your strategy of having UPower information on hand. The reason I was irked by Yael’s post is that this issue was discussed at GEO meetings that I was at. In the hours leading up to the walkout, GEO leadership explicitly told the membership to not be judgmental about staff members entering the buildings, and certainly not to assume one could tell the difference between students, staff, and faculty, and thus to treat anyone crossing the line politely, offering information but no condemnation. Further, I find the “with us or against us”, “GEO or the administration” dichotomies to be unhelpful at best, harmful at worst. Yes, people are going to resent being put in an either/or, no-middle-ground position, and when you’ve fostered resentment, you certainly haven’t fostered support for your cause.

    Maybe this all just reflects my personal discomfort with picketing (although I was out there), but I think the points I’m trying to make are intertwined with previous posts about GEO communications, privilege or the perception thereof, and so on.
       —Joy    Mar. 26 '05 - 11:37AM    #
  27. Mark, there would be little objection from this quarter if you were to omit the comment about this being your opinion and not that of AU. I don’t want to get into a situation where we all feel like we have to disclaim our views if we’re not totally sure everybody agrees. And, you know, it’s not as if there’s no mechanism for us to say we disagree if we do.
       —Murph    Mar. 26 '05 - 12:45PM    #
  28. Fair enough… and it should be assumed all opinion are the writer’s, hence the by-line.
       —Brandon    Mar. 26 '05 - 02:11PM    #
  29. I’d like to address the issue of GEO communications briefly.

    GEO is not monolithic: it is an organization run by and for the membership. Thus, the work of GEO is largely done by members who are not paid for their work. For example, I am lead negotiator, a position that is unpaid and which is also essentially fulltime work. There are 5 other GEO members on the bargaining team who are similarly unpaid for the efforts. The emails and phone calls that grad employees receive with news or info about GEO mostly come from members who are also volunteering their time and effort. Flyers and newsletters are also member-generated.

    There is a very simple way to have an impact and improve the quality of communications from GEO: come down to the office to help out. With the help of just a few more members volunteering for an hour, GEO could put out another newsletter, or put out an informational flyer, or press release. With your help, we could do so much more and probably do it much better…

    I’m sorry to read (here and elsewhere) that people encountered what they felt was hostility from GEO picketers. In GEO walk-outs of some previous years employees who did not benefit from having a union were asked to respect the lines if they felt able, and if they crossed were asked to wear an “I Support GEO” button at work. I was such a staff person about a decade ago: I was able to rearrange my work and not cross, but not all of my co-workers could do the same and they wore their GEO buttons with pride while I walked the picket line outside.

    Would I have preferred that no one cross the pickets a decade ago or last week? Sure. But I’m also a realist, and what is most important to me is to see public visible displays of whatever kind of support each individual has to offer.

    Each of us has an opportunity this week to make a difference. Why not just take those few steps up to the GEO office and say “Hi, I’ve got an hour or so, what can I do to help?”
       —Andre    Mar. 27 '05 - 12:14AM    #
  30. It’s nice to see all you GEOers around these parts… I assume someone was mailing around a link, but I hope you visit often and participate in discussion on a variety of topics.
       —Brandon    Mar. 27 '05 - 02:04AM    #
  31. This comment is partially in response to JennyD’s (#5) about receiving a letter from GEO soliciting money. GEO does not send out letters asking for donations from graduate students. As others have pointed out here, GEO is a completely volunteer-run organization. Its only source of income are the mandatory union dues and service fees that anyone who is a GSI or GSSA at the University of Michigan is required to pay. If you received a letter from GEO asking you to send in money, that letter also would have explained that sending that money was a condition of your employment as a GSI. True, the letter did not detail what the money would be used for, but as the one who writes those letters, I prefer to keep them short (so that people will actually read them) and to end with a paragraph that says, “If you have any questions, please contact the GEO office” in such-and-such a way.

    Contacting the GEO office would be a great way to get your questions answered about anything from what the money would go to, to what are the specifics of GEO’s strike platform positions. I really would encourage you and anyone else who feels underinformed to follow the weblinks, call the office at the number that should appear at the bottom of every e-mail, or reply to the person who e-mailed you from GEO. The reason that so many of GEO’s communications are focused on letting people know how they can be involved rather than letting them know what’s going on, is because many of the structures that GEO has in place to inform people about what’s going on (Stewards’ Council Meetings, Membership Meetings, etc.) also require that people be involved and in attendance. Not to mention the fact that, as others have pointed out, the only way we can get more information out to folks is to have more folks involved in getting the information out!

    Rather than just being frustrated or crossing picket lines because you don’t feel you have enough information (and I am not referring to non-collectively-bargained-for staff members here), please seek out the information in the ways I mention above. And if you feel like more people should have access to that information in easier and more immediate ways, please become active in GEO and be part of the group that makes decisions about how that information will be disseminated and then goes out to do the work of dissemination.

    As you have made clear in the issues you raise in your own posts, GEO NEEDS YOU (whether you will ever be a GSI again or not)!
       —Afia    Mar. 27 '05 - 02:52PM    #
  32. fyi…

    The state does not define work-study positions as a job. So people in those positions are not able to legally bargain with the administration. (The administration also defines research assistants in that category)

    But to remember, it used to be illegal to engage in collective action, period.

    As far as the black/white lines that get drawn during these times, I think that is more a product of the pressure of the situation than the clear lines being drawn by the administration in bargaining.

    Kudos to the ideas about getting UPOWER info out on the picket lines… off to create that info sheet in the event of an extended job action.
       —Mark    Mar. 28 '05 - 12:29AM    #
  33. I’m a psychology GSI and I supported the strike on Thursday. I’m not sure whether I’ll go along with an indefinite action, though. It would be really bad for the kids I teach.

    I’ve been listening to a lot of different ideas about GSI-ship and striking, and thinking them over. I apologize in advance for the length of this post, but my inability to figure out how to organize and condense the issue is part of the problem!

    GEO’s position: The rhetoric used by GEO, both in their explicit communications and in their choices of illustrations and propaganda, builds on a model of GSIs (TAs) as workers engaging in a market transaction with the university. The administration can be expected to be entirely self-interested and exploitive, and we have the right to do anything within legal bounds to improve our bargaining position.

    The alternate perspective, soft: Grad students, their bosses (the profs), and the management (the university administration) are all on the same side: We all benefit from creating an excellent university, making sure our departments have the funds to operate, and creating collegial relationships among different levels in the chain. GEO shouldn’t be using hard-bargaining tactics, and should be accommodating to the admin’s claims about what they can afford to give us.

    The alternate perspective, hard: GSI jobs are not real jobs. They’re positions created by the university to give the department an excuse to pay us to be students, so we don’t have to get real jobs and distract ourselves from our research. We should be grateful to get anything at all, and it’s ridiculous to act as if we were entitled to bargain like real workers. (my advisor thinks this!)

    What M—- told me: Striking primarily punishes the department you work for (which is usually the department you and your advisors do research in). Her department handsomely supplements her university stipend, and she doesn’t feel right acting against it. She’s not teaching now, but she chose to cross picket lines in order to attend class.

    I think everyone has a good point. The hard-alternate-perspective is bunk, in that we work hard, often harder than we would at any extracurricular half-time job, and in that the university’s undergrad teaching benefits tremendously from the in-depth grading, small-group discussions, and miscellaneous work-hours that graduate employees provide. On the other hand, the university does create an artificial marketplace in which those jobs are only open to graduate students. Were it not for this system, those jobs might go to lecturers, part-time teachers, or adjunct faculty who might be more experienced and efficient. In a personal conversation, Murph pointed out to me that the university benefits from using these job slots as part of our training: We become better teachers, gain more prestige as faculty, and reflect that back on the department (teaching expertise rarely has much direct effect on one’s reputation, but someone who’s good at discharging their required teaching duties will probably learn more from them, and have more time for research). Still, though, I wonder whether we should respect that GSIing is like apprenticeship, and not try to be entirely self-serving in our negotiations with the university.

    The soft-alternate-perspective notes that we do share a common goal, and our funding and research opportunities benefit or suffer as a result of the quality of our teaching. Additionally, despite what GEO propaganda suggests, the “bosses” are not drill-sergeant line managers who don’t care how many fingers get caught in the press as long as we make quota. They’re our advisors and mentors, who obviously care about us as people as well as workers. However, they’re not the ones in charge of our contract: the university administration is, and they are more often concerned with minimizing expenditures and liabilities. They’re also more distant from the lives of grad students, and might not realize how much a few extra dollars or a better dental plan could mean to our quality of life.

    GEO’s perspective is important because while we may have it pretty well now, we didn’t get to this point by being conciliatory. Grad students from thirty years ago have plenty of stories about being forced to teach whole classes or write textbooks for their advisors, spend huge amounts of time on data entry or computer programming, or just do stupid stuff like wash their advisor’s car. I hear stories of similar things from non-unionized universities today (though just scattered anecdotes; I don’t really know the overall situation). If GEO weren’t standing up for us, I’m sure we could be taken advantage of. However, I’m also pretty sure that their aggression creates a self-fulfilling prophesy. I almost imagine that the university has its final, reasonable proposal pre-written and locked in a vault somewhere, to be brought out at the last minute—because they know that if they started with their best offer, GEO would still rant and rave and threaten to strike, and try to push them into even more concessions. However, I don’t know how to find a clear path to toning down the interaction on both sides simultaneously. If this is what we’re stuck with, supporting GEO is better than the alternative!

    I think there are valid reasons to strike: I think it’s just rude and disrespectful to give a raise so small that it amounts to a yearly pay cut. If the university really needs to do that, they owe each of us an apology and explanation, rather than slipping it into our contract and saying “take it or leave it.” I also think my GLBT brethren deserve the same partner benefits I have available to me. Again, there are substantial legal difficulties involved in achieving this (UM used to offer the benefits, but shut them down after last year’s ballot proposal to ban any state program that approximated or resembled endorsing domestic partnerships), but it would help if the university was frank with us about its options and future plans, and maybe commiserated a little.

    I take GEO’s reports on bargaining with many grains of salt, but I do think they speak accurately when they say that the administration is not entering into the bargaining honestly or in good faith.

    On the other hand, I don’t feel like I have a metric for recognizing a fair contract when I see it. It seems like getting into the numbers forces us to think about scary words, like how much does a GSI deserve to make, and how large a family should the university be committed to helping GSIs support? Not only do I not know the relevant resources and constraints, I don’t know how to judge what is fair after all.

    As a result, I end up going with a duty-based ethic: the people who are standing up for me and my peers deserve my loyalty. But I’m aware that I’m making an intellectually lazy decision, and I don’t feel entirely comfortable with GEO’s position either.
       —Michael    Mar. 28 '05 - 01:43AM    #
  34. My thoughts on the U benefiting from paying GSIs well was not just because it would make you good teachers later. It was largely based on a comment Mandrake made about how paying GSIs well allows them to spend more time on their research and less time picking up second jobs to pay for housing or child care. Paying GSIs well doesn’t just allow UM’s grad students to be better teachers, but allows them to do better reasearch.

    It also, in a very market fashion, attracts grad students to Michigan. Lots of grad students, when choosing schools, place heavy emphasis on which departments guarantee them funding, versus the departments which have funding available, but not guaranteed for any certain amount of time. Or on which departments guarantee funding at the highest level. In that way, paying GSIs well allows the UM to attract the best prospects, which both ensures that they do their grad work at Michigan (benefitting the U) and that, when they’re hotshot faculty at other schools, they will have gone through Michigan to get there.

    It may seem a little crass, but if Michigan wants to claim the prestige of Harvard or Princeton or Stanford, it has to be willing to pay for it. Cutting GSIs’ pay may be better for the U’s budget next year, but worse for the University 10 years from now.
       —Murph    Mar. 28 '05 - 04:42PM    #
  35. Murph, sounds good, but where does the money come from? Departments I’m familiar with say they just don’t have the money to pay for all that funding. They’re already reducing the packages they’re offering potential students (guaranteeing 2 years of funding more often, rather than 4 or 5) and they’re reducing the number of in-department GSI positions because they say they cost too much (replacing them with hourly instructional assistants and temps). It’s a matter of prioritizing, for sure, but if these changes are already happening, I see only more of it if a GSI costs more, rather than more creative financing. Stinks, but it’s the way it’s working so far (again, in my limited familiarity with only a few departments).

    Is there a non-departmental pot of money that GSI compensation can come from?

    In theory, I’m with you, but how?
       —KateM    Mar. 29 '05 - 10:53AM    #