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.


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