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Grad employees march, demand university response to contract proposals

April 24, 2019

The Michigan State Graduate Employees Union, or GEU, organized a march across campus Monday in response to the university not offering "counter-proposals on salary, tuition waivers, housing, dependent healthcare and childcare," according to the Facebook event.

On the event page, they referred to these as "essential economic issues."

The march started at The Rock on Farm Lane, continued down Grand River, and ended at the Hannah Administration Building.

“MSU is not addressing the issues of affordable housing and cutting our pay," GEU Chief Information Officer Kevin Bird said in a press release. "We will take matters into our own hands."

The GEU re-negotiates their contract with university administration every four years, Bird said. He said if things run well, the GEU won’t need to march after the next four years.

Their current contract went into effect May 2015 and will last until this May.

The march on Grand River followed negotiations with the university that took place last Thursday. According to the press release, university representatives offered their first counter-proposal, which "functionally reflects a cut to current salary increases contractually guaranteed in GEU soon-to-expire contract, while barely raising the current minimum. "

Graduate assistants making the minimum stipend at MSU are behind other Big Ten schools, and make less than three-fourths of a living wage for the area, the press release said. When GEU proposed an increase in the minimum stipend, they were met with rejection from the university and suggestions to apply for federal housing assistance programs.

“We’ve been telling stories about how they dispense 70-percent (of) their income to put students in childcare and get dinner from the food bank," GEU Vice president Shawna Rowe said in her pre-march speech.

GEU President Nick Rowe said the university always denies requests for salary increases. Four years ago, he said the same issue with contract negotiations happened. He hoped the march would be effective.

The union members march not only for themselves, but for the issues their colleagues face. When Rowe spoke on the reason why he would like to being integrated with the GEU, he talked of his colleagues with children that wouldn’t be able to get their contracts passed.

"For my colleagues with children, it is very difficult because they have to find another way to get the children insured, and so that’s why I am here," Rowe said. "If you want to pursue your graduate study and you want to teach here, you should be able to do that regardless of who you are, what life you are in. I want to fight for that because, apparently, this institution thinks that only single young people should be able to access the institution and graduates teaching systems."

Second year history doctoral student Patrick O’Grady gave his speech in front of the Hannah Administration Building at the end of the march.

"In response to our humble requests to have a home to live in, a healthcare plan to guard us, a salary that would permit us to live neither in poverty nor luxury and increased protections against violence, discrimination and harassment," he said, "Michigan State University flatly denied us time and time again."

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