U-M presents last, best and final contract offer to graduate workers

August 20, 2023

ANN ARBOR—After nine months of challenging labor negotiations and a union strike that led instructors to walk off the job in the final weeks of the winter term, the University of Michigan has presented its last, best and final contractual offer to the Graduate Employees’ Organization. 

The proposal was delivered to the union at the start of a scheduled bargaining session Sunday morning, about a week before fall term classes are set to begin. It includes the following provisions for graduate student instructors and graduate student staff assistants in a contract spanning three years: 

  • Annual salary increases of 8% in 2023, 6% in 2024, and 6% in 2025 for Ann Arbor campus employees (20% over three years).
  • Annual salary increases of 3.5% for Dearborn campus employees (10.5% over three years).
  • Annual salary increases of about 9% for Flint campus employees to align its minimum stipend to that of UM-Dearborn at the end of the contract term.
  • A $1,000 bonus to employees on all campuses.
  • Up to 12 weeks of paid leave for employees who are birthing parents.
  • Lower annual out-of-pocket maximums on mental health and physical therapy copays.
  • Expanded gender-affirming benefits.
  • The creation of special conferences between GEO leaders and university officials to discuss gender-affirming care and benefits.
  • The creation of multi-meeting special conferences on disability accommodations and concerns about campus infrastructure and resources available to persons with disabilities.
  • The creation of a three-year pilot program, which provides up to one semester of funding for an employee to transition out of an unhealthy working relationship, including an abusive, discriminatory and/or harassing relationship. The pilot program does not require the employee to report the situation to U-M’s Equity, Civil Rights, and Title IX Office, a sticking point that union leaders have continually identified as a priority in bargaining.
  • The creation of a $20,000 per year International Graduate Workers Assistance Fund. 
  • New requirements for academic units to publish GSI class-size policies.
  • The creation of a dedicated GSI/GSSA employment website.

In collective bargaining, a “last, best, and final offer” is a formal proposal that one side presents to the other which includes all benefits and compromises. This is usually done to allow union members to vote to accept or reject an employer’s best-case proposal. It is the culmination of the collective bargaining process and indicates that no further negotiation will be undertaken.

GEO President Jared Eno sent an email Thursday to a number of university leaders, requesting the university provide the offer in advance of a Monday meeting so union members could vote on whether to launch a ratification vote on the offer.

“The university provided the union with an offer that is historic and wide-ranging in its compensation, benefits and enhancements,” U-M Provost Laurie McCauley said. “It is our belief that this proposal is more than sufficient to make a positive vote for a tentative agreement by GEO members a clear-cut decision.”

Outside of the bargaining process, the university also has offered side letters of commitment pledging to continue the Rackham Summer Funding Program through at least August 2026 and similarly expand funding for Ph.D. students with funding commitments on the Dearborn campus to 12 months by summer 2025.

The university also committed to create and implement a transitional funding program for GSRAs and fellowship students by the end of the 2023-2024 academic year. Additionally, per GEO’s request, President Santa J. Ono has agreed to make a statement in support of an unarmed non-police program. 

The offer comes after nine months of contentious negotiations between the university and the union. The dispute reached a critical point when GEO members walked off the job in late March and remained on strike through the remainder of the winter term. 

“As much as the union and the university have been at odds regarding various aspects of negotiations, I respect the work, tenacity, and organization it requires for a union to run and complete a successful negotiation,” McCauley said. “The end result is the possibility of a contract that will offer graduate students a spectrum of substantial support for years to come. 

“I am optimistic that we are around the corner from a harmonious fall semester focused on our mission: world-class education, research, and service,” she said.