The members of the Graduate Employees Union should be congratulated for their hard work in solidifying their collective bargaining victory.
Graduate employees appointed as teaching assistants went to the polls Thursday and Friday to vote on whether they wanted to be represented by a union. The employees voted overwhelmingly for the union 662-192.
The results of the vote still have to be certified by the Michigan Employment Relations Commission, an action that could take up to two weeks. The GEU, which is affiliated with the American Federation of Teachers and the AFL-CIO, submitted a petition of more than 900 signatures to the commission Feb. 12 requesting collective bargaining power.
Members of the GEU worked very hard to promote their union and it is a credit to them that this measure passed. The GEU was able to garner support despite sentiments from university leaders that a union was neither needed nor likely to become reality.
The union stands to benefit graduate employees in many key ways. The ability to bargain collectively could help TAs get better health coverage from the university. Right now, graduate students, employees or not, have the same coverage as undergraduates. While this seems fair, many undergraduates have the option of being covered by their parents insurance while many graduate students do not have that luxury.
Increased health coverage would also be helpful to graduate students with families. Working as a TA and earning a degree does not allow enough time to hold down another job that would provide insurance, nor does it bring in enough money to cover many medical procedures.
Teacher assistants put in a lot of time and work into their jobs. They provide a very important service to the university and should be compensated and treated as such. It is only right to give them some power over their benefits.
Collective bargaining could also help graduates increase other benefits like tuition waivers. MSU waives tuition for up to nine credits for teacher assistants, the lowest amount in the Big Ten.
Similar unions have existed at the University of Michigan since 1975 and at Wayne State University since 1998. Both unions have succeeded in improving benefits for graduate employees and there is no reason to believe it would not work at MSU, especially since neither side has expressed serious problems without a union.
A union could be the beginning of a good relationship between graduate employees and the administration while benefiting both sides. The administration will not lose any power and the graduates will have some say in their contracts.
Forming a union stands to benefit graduate employees a great deal without hurting the administration. The members of the GEU worked hard to make this union a reality and they deserve a great deal of recognition for their efforts to improve conditions for all of their fellow employees.