Contract talks stall; Michigan grads may strike

by Kelly Hildebrandt

Graduate assistants at the University of Michigan staged a walk-out for all of Wednesday and Thursday morning as contract negotiations, started in October, reached a standstill.
Administrative officials and union representatives are at a stalemate on issues regarding graduate assistant appointments and wage increases. Throughout the weekend they will be negotiating, said Rachel Gahara, a Michigan union member.
Sunday night, union members will vote on whether to accept the contract negotiated during the weekend. The union and the university negotiate a new contract every three years. If contract deliberations fall through and union members vote to strike, they will strike on Monday.
The University of Michigan union has existed since 1975 and only represents teaching assistants. In 1975, the union went on strike for one month and since then has only had seven days of work stoppage.
“We use a strike as a last resort,” Gahara said, adding that they recognize the adverse effect a strike has on students.
At the University of Minnesota, the Graduate Students Organizing Congress is currently driving for a union. An election is expected to occur in April or May.
The possibility of a strike if a union is elected is a concern for some graduate assistants at the University.
“Work stoppage is common,” said Paul Enever, a member of Graduate Students Against Unionization. He cited the recent Michigan walk-out as an example. Enever said a work stoppage can have adverse effects on both graduate assistants as well as undergraduates.
“Nobody wants to go on strike,” said Melinda Jackson, a GradSOC member; but when a strike occurs, it is usually regarding big issues like wages and compensation.
In contrast to the recent strikes in the University of California system, where administrators wouldn’t recognize the graduate assistant union, Michigan’s long-recognized union is negotiating for a new contract.