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ULO comes together over years
of contract negotiations, fights
The Michigan Daily - Friday, February 23, 1996- 3
Twenty-one years ago this month, mem- '
bers of the Graduate Employees Organiza-
tion held out for four weeks against cold
weather and several University counter-
proposals before relenting and signing their
first contract on March 14, 1975.
Today GEO plans to announce the re-
sults of a strike authorization vote that
members cast ballots for last week. If the
majority ofthe organization agrees to strike,
then GEO steering committee will strongly
consider a walk-out.
Marti Bombyk, a graduate student in-
structor in the '70s, recalled her experience
this week as a strike captain in 1975. She
said the union was seen as "subversive in
my day, but now it's much more accepted."
"I learned there was a need for intellec- [ ~
tual workers to be represented by a union,"
said Bombyk, now a visiting professor in
the School of Social Work. "The union is a
great economic opportunity for graduate
students and provides the University with
the best students."
Current University chief negotiator Dan
Gamble said the history of GEO and the
University has been "a pretty darn good
"I get calls from around the country, other schools about their
TAs starting to organize. They see it as negative thing, but I
haven't found that here at the University."
But 1975 was not the first time disgruntled "teaching fellows"
refused to teach their classes at the University. In 1970, political
science TFs called off classes for a week in February. They were
protesting the department's decision to cut $18,000 in funds for
An article in the Feb. 11, 1970 issue of The Michigan Daily
said, "Prof. A. Organski, whose introductory course on Ameri-
can politics includes 22 recitation sections, yesterday said,
'From what I understand, my sections have not met. I don't think
anybody else's did, either."'
Students reacted to the so-called "moratorium" in the Feb. 24
issue of the Daily with some concern about the long-term effects
of the work stoppage.
Bill Jacobs, a student at the time, was quoted as saying, "We
don't really know what is going on. Class was only canceled for
a week, so it didn't make too much difference.
"Nevertheless, teaching fellows are supposed to teach and
they defeat their purpose when they are not teaching."
However, the birth of the current union did not begin with
either strike. The teaching fellows' union began when they filed
"with the (Michigan) Employment Relations Committee ... for
recognition as the collective bargaining agent for all University
teaching fellows," according to Daily articles,
At the time, administrators estimated that 1,200 TFs were
employed by the University. Organizing TFs claimed they had
collected signatures from 30 percent of the TF pool - the
minimum needed to file a petition for recognition with MERC.
During the early years ofGEO, faculty members expressed their
reservations about the TFs' grievances.
"I can't have any reaction at all. What's their basic purpose?
Who's involved? We
don't really known
what they want," said
classics department .
Buttrey in the Jan. 24,
1970 issue of the r
said the organizing of
TFs would tighten
budgets and create an
ment chair Harvey
Brazer said in 1970, "If teaching fellow pay were raised, let s say
from $3,000 to $5,000, it would impinge on the departments. It
would be likely to mean larger classes and less faculty."
MERC killed the petition and sided with the University. They
decided TFs were not "an appropriate collective bargaining unit"
and instead were part of a larger group including research and
The summer of 1973 proved to be a hot one for teaching
fellows, with several administrative decisions leading to a sec-
ond organizing drive by the union - then called the Organiza-
tion of Teaching Fellows, according to GEO records.
The Nov. 2, 1973 issue ofthe Daily reported that TFs were "calling
forthe creation ofa 'living wage' forTFs and a total removal oftuition
for teaching fellows beginning in the fall of 1974."
Former University President Robben Fleming, according to
the Nov. 8, 1973 issue of the Daily, responded by allocating $2
million of a $3.75 million surplus to teaching fellows "in the
form of financial aid and increased stipends."
OTF executive committee member Lionel Biron said at the
time that OTF would accept the money but with caution.
Today GEO plans to announce the results of a strike
authorization vote it sent to members last week. The
University and GEO have been negotiating a new contract
since Oct. 31. The original deadline to
sign a contract was at midnight
Feb. 1, but both parties have extended
talks for four more weeks. They have
reached agreement on eight of 37
By Anupama Reddy Daily Staff Reporter
Photos by Joe Westrate and Warren Zinn
The University agreed to give an 8-percent pay raise to all 2;200
Graduate Student Assistants. The union rejected the University
offer, saying it was a "stalling" tactic.
On the evening of Feb. 5, 1975, 1,000 GEO members resolved to
take a walkout vote, backed by a strong endorsement ofthe Michigan
Brotherhood of Teamsters.
Union leader Mark Kaplan said, "It's time to stop waiting. It's
time to show them (the University) that we're ready to strike
until they're ready to come across.";
Some professors said they would not require TAs to /
teach if they were on strike.
"I have no plans to force people to teach if they don't
want to. The effect on us will be mostly in the primary
courses, and I think it's clear that most ofthem will shut
down," psychology department chair Keith Smith said
in the Feb. 5, 1975 issue of the Daily.
But not all TAs favored the strike. Martha Krieg, a'
romance languages TA, said in February 1975 that
her students were more important than signing a
"Think of that last semester senior who wants to
finish so he can get a job and make some money ors
start into summer school somewhere," Krieg said. "I
have no right to screw somebody like that."
She also said the University did not have as much
money as GEO assumed.
"I worked in the library for awhile and I saw the budget requests
to the legislature, and I know the University does not have hoards of
money," Krieg said. "There's a lot tied up by law in certain grants
and funds. GEO sees dollars but they don't know how difficult it is.
to have money transferred into certain areas."
In a vote, 689 out of 882 GEO members approved a strike that
began at 12:01 a.m. on Feb. I1 of that year.
Last minute efforts' to-
4 break the deadlock the pre-
1K y svious weekend had failed.
Fleming said he was con-
fused about GEO's decision
a x to strike.
"I don't follow the logic
,,ofon one hand saying, 'Yes,
we are making progress,' but
on the other saying, 'Yes,
we are going to strike."'
GEO chief negotiator
Sandy Wilkinson assured
that "a strike in no way sug-
gests negotiations have bro-
Class attendance was cut in half the first day of the strike. Students
were not sure which classes would still be taught, and some joined
the picket lines.
Then-LSA junior George Ellis said in the Feb. 12, 1975 issue of
the Daily that GEO had a right to strike but not to bother students.
"I'm very surprised at the way that some of the GEO members are
acting," Ellis said. "They have been making smart remarks and tried to
keep me from entering the building. I support GEO's right to strike, but
I have to be in class because I'll be held responsible for what I miss."
After four weeks ofclosed negotiations, GEO agreed to a tentative
agreement on March 12, 1975.
Then-physics TA Mike Shane said in the Daily of the contract,
"I'm not satisfied, but I'll settle for it."
For the next five years, GEO began a court battle
with the University over the classification of .
TAs as employees or students. In November 4ent
1981, Judge Schlomo Sperka of MERC ruled
in the union's favor and ordered a new con-'
tract be negotiated I
Bombyk was still part ofGEO at the time'
Getting a 031
than it may seem,
Becoming a graduate student instructor is one way a graduate
student can finance further years in higher learning, but the jobs
are few and far between.
Each department hires is its own GSIs, and the factors
influencing the decision range from budgetary limits to aca-
Engineering Prof. Tom Senior, associate chair of academic
affairs in electrical engineering, said the procedure his depart-
ment follows on hiring GSIs is similar to many other depart-
"This system works well," Senior said. "It is the same system
with minor variations throughout the University."
He said the electrical engineering department advertises GSI
positions via e-mail and posted announcements. Then, the
department's three divisions select their own financial aid
committee to determine how many GSIs can be supported by
their division's budget. Academic performance and contacts
finalize who will get the jobs, Senior said.
"All applications go to the financial aid committee because a
(GSlship) is a form of financial aid," he said. "It's not based
upon need but academic performance."
History GSI Karen Miller said the high caliber of GSIs makes
them a reliable group for professors to support.
"The academy needs us," said Miller, GEO's chief negotiator.
"The trend in larger universities is to rely more and more on
(GSIs) because they're cheap and highly skilled labor."
Senior said his role is to assign GSIs sections in the courses of
the electrical engineering departments. He said he "matched
-their skills to our needs."
But Sayan Bhattacharyya, who taught electrical engineering
classes as an international GSI the last two semesters, said he
had a difficult time adjusting to the "American classroom."
"When I got to teach these (classes), there were a lot of things
I had to learn on my own - what kind of things work in the
American classroom and what don't," he said.
Bhattacharyya said he would have liked the opportunity to
participate in the training that some of his colleagues in LSA
underwent - a mandatory three week summer training program,
administered by the English Language Institute.
Senior said the department requires international GSIs whose
native languauge is not English to pass the ELI English
profiency exam with same score as international GSIs in LSA.
"We don't make it a practice to offer ( international GSIs)
positions sight unseen," he said.
Sarah Briggs, ELI's associate director for testing, said ELI not
only gives tests but tries "to provide services for international
GSIs throughout the semester."
But the large English department runs into a different problem
in hiring its GSls. Traditionally, they do not have as many
international GSIs as other departments because of a small
graduate class entering each year.
English Prof. William Ingram said his department is "unusual
in having enough money to support the people we admit."
He said the reason the department can guarantee their
graduate students a GSI position is because a small number is
admitted into the English department every year.
"Twenty neornle a vea~r cne in toi the (English)I department."