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CMU’s graduate student union reveals platform, hopes to begin bargaining for new contract in March

The goal of the Graduate Student Union’s bargaining platform is to improve basic protections and human rights for graduate assistants, GSU President Michelle Campbell said.

Central Michigan University’s GSU was recognized in 2009, and the three-year contract from 2010-13 expires next summer. Campbell said she hopes the Board of Trustees will approve bargaining at the Feb. 14 meeting so the GSU can bargain over spring break.

“Our hopes are that we have a contract by the end of the school year,” the Cedar Springs graduate assistant for English language and literature said.

Graduate assistants are in a position of being both students and employees at the university.

“We have the same responsibilities as a faculty member, but not the same rights as a faculty member,” Campbell said.

The official bargaining platform states that graduate assistants should be able to receive time off without negatively affecting their appointments or their students’ educations. The GSU supports “the orderly administration of judicious amounts of leave and bereavement time for graduate assistants at Central Michigan University.”

The platform supports a policy for graduate assistants to be able to get time off as a result of a serious medical condition, to take care of the health of a family or household member and under other circumstances such as military duty or jury duty.

“Graduate assistants should be able to request time off without worrying about jeopardizing their careers,” Sarah Murphy, a St. Johns graduate assistant for chemistry, said.

Overtime compensation is another issue listed in the bargaining platform.

Campbell said there are a number of full-time graduate assistants who work more than 20 hours per week. She said the GSU wants to make it so that graduate assistants working overtime can get compensation if they want it. Graduate students also should not be penalized if they don’t want to work overtime, she said.

Robert Hinck, a Mount Pleasant graduate assistant for communication and dramatic arts, said the GSU contract is important to graduate assistants. This is our career, he said.

“We don’t want to be limited by our contract,” he said.

The bargaining platform also includes sections on training opportunities, access to adequate materials and health care.

Ben Fortin, a Midland graduate assistant for political science, said as employees of a public institution, there are improvements that need to be made to protect rights for graduate assistants.

He said graduate assistants perform a lot of the same duties as faculty, and they need to be able to provide the same services to their students.

The bargaining platform states graduate assistants should not have to pay for training. If the training opportunity is a course that counts toward graduation, credits should be deducted from the graduate assistant’s tuition remission. If the course does not count toward graduation, the department or administrative unit should pay for the course. All training should count toward the graduate assistant’s workload hours.

Regarding the issue of health care, the platform states, “We believe that it is imperative to have reasonable employer-sponsored health insurance to guard against catastrophic health emergencies that could endanger a graduate assistant’s educational endeavors. We believe graduate assistants should have health care coverage beyond the wellness allowance, and we support health care coverage that extends to spouses, civil partners and children.”

Campbell said these issues have not been a “huge problem” in the past, but the GSU wants to establish protections for future situations.

Campbell said graduate assistants don’t receive stipends, and they do not get course release or time off to work on bargaining and graduate assistants volunteer to bargaining, in order to improve the contract for future graduate assistants.

“We take time out of our schedule to make things better for graduate assistants,” she said.

Campbell attempted to begin bargaining over winter break, when she brought her agenda to the Dec. 6 Board of Trustees meeting.

After emailing the board in advance, Campbell’s request was not mentioned in the formal meeting, and University President George Ross told her all bargaining would wait until spring, in keeping with the university’s traditional bargaining timetable.


  1. What a joke. This is going to lead to another tuition increase. What’s next? A union for RAs and freshman cafeteria workers?

    • Are you a graduate assistant? If you’re not, then you have no idea what it feels like to be one. We are constantly pressured into going out of our way to do more and more, and the job itself is often thankless to begin with. We are overworked, underpaid, and carry a burden everyday to provide students like you with the best education possible. If CMU decides to increase tuition, you can be sure it has absolutely nothing to do with GA’s. We only want what’s fair. And, yes, RAs like myself SHOULD have a union. We create publishable research that CMU gets to put its name on, assist faculty with their own research, and yet are apparently unworthy of something as simple as health care and solidarity.

    • The GSA proposal would result in a tuition increase only if the university is incapable of budgeting adequate compensation, including benefits, for graduate students.

    • You sound like an idiot. The right to unionize should be available to all employees. If CMU increases tuition, you can be sure it has nothing to do with us GAs.

    • CMU cafeteria workers would benefit from a union because they are usually so fresh in the workplace that they do not know their rights as employees and are taken advantage of in many ways. Their circumstances are not conducive to one (part-time, high turn-over, etc.), but they would not be taken advantage of as often if they had some education/training in workplace rights.

    • Pay attention to administration salary increases when you get a tuition increase. Here at Wayne, the GTA’s got 3%, the administration got 9%. Then point your blame accordingly.

  2. I always thought a GSA was to be “assisstant” …which gotta admit… i’ve never had a GSA in any of my classes in undergrad courses where they were given “the same responsibilities as a faculty member”… you grade papers, you make copies, you instruct in diuscussion sessions… where are you a fulll time faculty member by this??? it seems to me that people are hoping to raise families & make big bucks on a GSA income WHICH IS INSANE!! you do GSA to hopefully one day become full-time faculty (you assume the cost of not making as much) as for the time off… I have worked for a corporation for 10yrs before coming back to CMU… NO EMPLOYER WILL EVER GIVE THE SAME AMOUNT OF TIME OFF FOR PART-TIME EMPLOYEES, EVER!!! … = … I DON’T WANT TUITION RAISED!! where are our rights as students to STOP THIS NONSENSE!! ~If I see any signs from the Union of GSA: “We are the 98%” i’m so out!! Seriously People… you start from the bottom up, not Top-Down in LIFE!

    • Speaking from experience, GSA’s can’t raise a family on their income. Also, you seem very angry about other people exercising rights. Even the bottom has basic rights in the workplace.

    • Andrew Cooper says:

      Most of the GSU’s concerns are not expensive to address. The ones that do cost money are a quite small portion of CMU’s budget (if you cared to look into the actual figures behind what’s being discussed).

    • You’re so young and naive. We’ve got people with Masters degrees in their thirties who can’t make a living wage or get healthcare and you’re talking about STARTING at the bottom? Get real! These people are STUCK at the bottom and they’re going to get their rights the same way people have gotten their rights throughout history: by organizing and demanding respect.

      If you’re worried about your tuition, I suggest you do the same: organize a student union and be ready to hold the administration’s feet to the fire. But if you want to talk down the value of college graduates’ labor, it’ll only come back on you. The intern-ization of labor should be a concern of all young people. How are you going to pay back your loans when you graduate into our brave new world where all of a sudden everyone expects you to work for free or almost free in the hopes that your employer will someday decide to pay you for what you’ve already been doing for next-to-nothing?

  3. also… if you are here for the money… get out… if you are here to sacrifice for the students no matter what… then stay please, we need you! times are tough for all… wouldn’t it be nice in the future to say about yourself: “you know… I did my “job” because I loved it… sure I could have made great demands, but I thought of the students first”.

    • By that analysis, nobody would ever get paid.

    • Andrew Cooper says:

      In other words, you expect your instructors to *just give you* their efforts? Even Adam Smith said, “It is not from the benevolence of the butcher, the brewer, or the baker, that we can expect our dinner, but from their regard to their own interest.” Just because one is a dedicated educator who cares about her students doesn’t mean one has to work for peanuts in bad conditions.

    • Thinking of the students won’t fill anybody’s belly.

    • What do you mean by “my ‘job?’” Why the quotations on “job?” Are you suggesting it’s not a job? Do you work 40 hours a week for free?

  4. Solidarity from Wayne State GEOC. It’s not about the money, it’s about being treated fairly for the work that you bring the university. Your right to unionize should not be taken from you.

  5. You have great leadership if you have a Hinck running the show! (I used to do debate and forensics at CMU)

  6. We grad teachers aren’t doing this job just for the money, and the contracts we negotiate aren’t just about the money, either. It’s about fairness for all who work. Solidarity from UM GEO.

  7. Providing living wages to GA’s makes CMU more competitive and attractive to applicants. We have more time to devote to our students and our own studies (improving time to degree) when we don’t have to teach on three campuses to survive. I support my union and thank the people who volunteer to do this important work on our behalf! Rock on, GSU!

  8. Solidarity from Michigan State GEU! If you look at what GSU is demanding, it’s really pretty meager. They shouldn’t have to buy supplies or pay for training to do their jobs, especially when they don’t make much to begin with. They want reasonable healthcare so they can stay healthy and be in the classroom for students as much as possible. If the university signs them to a contract and pays them to do a job for 20 hours each week, they shouldn’t be pressured to work 30 or 40. I don’t know many professions where you just throw in double the work for free.

  9. Good job, GSU! Solidarity from UM GEO!

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