Graduate Employees' Organization
GEO has represented approximately 2,200 graduate student assistants. The majority of these are in the College of Literature, Science, and the Arts.
In March of 1970, the "University of Michigan Teaching Fellows Union" petitioned MERC for recognition as the bargaining agent for the 1,500 teaching fellows. At a subsequent hearing before the Michigan Employment Relations Commission, the University argued that teaching fellows were not employees within the meaning of the law. The University's position was that teaching fellows were primarily University of Michigan graduate students and not employees. A majority of teaching fellow appointments were given to individuals who were fulfilling a degree requirement by teaching. In such cases the University was not required to pay the individual but, in many instances, chose to do so as a form of financial support. Most teaching fellow appointments were considered an intricate part of the financial support program for graduate students and, in cases where a degree requirement was involved, the fellowships were considered tax exempt. The University further argued that if teaching fellows were to be considered as employees they were part of a larger bargaining unit and, therefore, should not be certified as an appropriate unit by themselves. MERC did not rule on the employment status question but dismissed the teaching fellows' petition on the grounds that if they were employees they were part of a larger unit.
In February of 1974, the Graduate Employees' Organization (GEO) requested recognition by the University as the bargaining agent for all graduate student assistants. GEO set a target date for a strike vote to be taken in the event the University refused to recognize it as the bargaining agent. The University declined to recognize the GEO, but did agree to a consent election if the GEO was able to demonstrate at least a 30 percent showing of interest among the 2,200 graduate student assistants. An election, supervised by Page 39MERC, was held April 1-3, 1974, which was won by GEO.
A first contract was negotiated, becoming effective on March 14, 1975. Salary provisions of the contract were made retroactive to September 1, 1974.
The Graduate Employees' Organization affiliated with the American Federation of Teachers/Michigan Federation of Teachers as Local 3550 in March 1976.
The contract expired August 31, 1976, and a successor contract has not been negotiated; the legal issue of a graduate student's employee status under the Act is now being litigated.