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GEU works to finalize contract negotiations

April 23, 2008

The Graduate Employees Union and university administrators are taking the next step to finalize contract negotiations following Tuesday’s tentative agreement on a new three-year contract.

For the union, that step is an online vote to be taken by the general membership in the next several weeks that officially ratifies the new contract.

If the contract receives the two-thirds vote needed to be ratified, the union will then enter into a series of meetings with the university to implement new elements of the contract, including increased health care coverage and the addition of an extra one-credit tuition waiver for the summer semester, said Karen Klomparens, dean of the Graduate School.

“We’ll be working together over the summer to ensure that all provisions are addressed by the union and MSU,” Klomparens said. “The work isn’t over yet.”

In addition to working out the logistics of the contract and getting as much done before the May 15 expiration of the current one, the biggest challenge facing the union in the summer will be informing members about the new agreement, said Art Covert, president-elect of the union.

“We have to educate the membership about it, and make sure to visit all the departments and try to help them work out any problems,” Covert said.

Beyond ratification issues, the union plans to raise its profile around campus, Covert said, which may include hosting guest speakers and forging relationships with undergraduate students and student groups that showed support for the union, such the Students for Economic Justice.

It’s an important move for the union to make, said Nate Zukas, a union steward for the Department of Geography, because of the close bond between undergraduates and teaching assistants.

“We feel strongly about the students — we love to teach,” he said. “That’s why we take these assistantships. Our relationships with undergraduates are extremely important.”

In addition to engaging undergraduates more intensively, the union also plans to strengthen ties with the university through bi-monthly visits with the Office of Employee Relations and semester visits with Klomparens.

Although there are still some issues that the new agreement leaves hanging, such as flexible tuition waivers, it is an improvement over the previous contract, Covert said.

“A lot of economic benefits are incrementally better,” he said. “There are obviously always gains we’d like to see, but for now this is something we’re willing to accept.”

For now, Covert said, the focus is ending the year with a solid contract.

“Right now, we’re taking a collective deep breath, ratifying the contract and closing out the year,” he said.

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