While the University of Michigan Graduate Employees Organization, or GEO, goes on strike, demanding higher wages, President Ava Hill of the MSU Graduate Employees Union, or GEU, said the union supports the GEO in their goal.
According to the GEO 2022-2023 Contract Campaign, the GEO is proposing “a living wage of $38,537 per year” and their “salary pegged to the cost of living for 12 months, with the option to defer wages until the summer.” This would be a $14,000 increase to their minimum stipend, costing UM $30 million, which the GEO says is a “drop in the bucket" for them.
While this would equate to a 60% increase in wages, Hill said the numbers can sound a lot bigger than they are because people don’t know the size of the starting salaries.
“I don't know exactly what (UM graduate employee) salary numbers are, but I know here (at MSU), the contract minimum for graduate assistants works out to like $16,000 a year,” Hill said. “So even if we were to talk about, say, 60% of that, I mean, that's a big raise, but that's still not even a living wage.”
Hill said the MSU GEU is asking for a 7% raise, which would cost MSU about $1.4 million. She said that while this may seem like a big number, like what the GEO said about their wage increase, it would be a “drop in the bucket.”
Since the GEO has gone on strike, the UM has filed a complaint with the Washtenaw County Circuit Court, hoping a judge would order the graduate students back to work since the strike has impacted the function of classes and exams.
Hill said that people tend to underestimate how much work it takes to teach a course, something that is a main task of many graduate employees. Along with teaching, many graduate employees have research and coursework that keeps them busy. And with almost half of MSU’s GEU membership living on $16,000 a year, Hill said the salaries become a deterrent for people to come to grad school at MSU.
“I think the same could be true at U of M,” Hill said. “That it would benefit the university to pay a living wage to their grad students in the long run because they'd be able to attract more and better candidates, as opposed to just whoever can afford to scrape by on that.”
Overall, Hill said that the MSU GEU fully supports the UM GEO “fighting for their members to get a living wage” and fully supports their demands. She said she hopes their strike starts a larger conversation about the way graduate workers, as well as other campus workers, are treated at universities.
“There's a lot of people here who are overworked and underpaid, and I hope that this can be a step towards fixing that for all of us,” Hill said.
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