Contract Analysis to Clarify Rights, Think about the Future

by James Anderson

An analysis of the current contract agreement between the Board of Trustees and GAUnited at SIU illustrates important legally binding protections for graduate assistants and points to the potential contractual terms to be considered for negotiation during the next round of bargaining.

Graduate Assistants are protected by the terms of this agreement through the duration of the contract from July 1, 2012 through June 30, 2014 (FY 2012 – FY 2014).

Article 13 of the contract specifies that graduate assistants will receive a stipend increase of 1% on January 1, 2012 (FY 12), another 1% increase in FY 13, and a 2% increase in FY 14.

The contract also contains a clause allowing GAUnited to negotiate for increases in wages if student fees rise by more than 5% in FY 14. Note that a similar stipulation was set in place if fees were to have increased by more than 4% in FY 13.

While graduate student fees did not exceed the specified amounts, the increase in fees came close—rising 3.5% from 2011-12 to 2012-13 (SIUC Institutional Research and Studies Factbook for 2012-2013)

The SIUC Factbook also illustrates a 10% increase in fees from 2008-2009 to 2009-2010 and a drastic 30.8% increase from 2005-06 to 2006-07.

Judging by past increases, the five-percent clause serves an important purpose.

The existing contract also protects graduate assistants from undue expenses. As per Section 14.3, graduate assistants are not expected to pay for lab equipment broken or damaged at work.

Section 13.5 states that graduate assistants who hold a half-time appointment can “elect to have their salary distributed over twelve (12) months” by notifying the University in writing.

According to Article 9, graduate assistants should be notified of any issues related to job performance at the time of the occurrence and “shall have the opportunity to comment in writing upon any written evaluations provided by faculty and staff, including their department supervisors.”

Article 17 states that personnel files kept for all assistants must be made accessible to GAs upon request, and that file should “not include materials related to the assistant’s academic performance or unit evaluations.”

The article also states that “an assistant shall be notified in writing by the University whenever disciplinary material is added to his/her personnel file…(and) shall have the right to add explanatory material to his/her personnel file, as allowed by law.”

Moreover, the contract prevents arbitrary firing.

Article 19 notes that prior to any termination of employment for “unsatisfactory performance of job duties,” a GA “should be given two written warnings accompanied with adequate opportunities to improve performance.” Under the same Article, assistants are guaranteed “the right to Union representation throughout the entire disciplinary process and during any investigatory interview that may lead to discipline.”

Graduate assistants also have the right to appeal any departmental decisions related to dismissal through the grievance procedure outlined in the contract if they feel that the nature of the decision was capricious or untenable.

A GA can always contact a Union officer or steward for help with grievances and any other employment issues.

Although assistants on a 9-month appointment do not earn any vacation time under the current contract, those with a 12-month appointment “accrue 12 work days of vacation each year, at the rate of one day per month,” as stated in Article 15.

Interestingly, the celebrated—but often ignored—Universal Declaration of Human Rights adopted by the United Nations General Assembly in 1948, states that everyone should have the right to holidays with pay. As per Article 23 of the UDPH, everyone also “has the right to equal pay for equal work,” “the right to just and favorable remuneration ensuring … an existence worthy of human dignity,” and “the right to form and to join trade unions.”

Some of these rights need constant reaffirmation, which is why collective bargaining agreements are key to continually asserting the dignity of GAs. Exploring contractual agreements garnered through collective bargaining at other universities can help hone GAU objectives for the next round of bargaining.

For example, the contract between The University of Illinois Board of Trustees and the Graduate Employees’ Organization differs in interesting ways from the current GAU contract.

Article IV of the 2012-2017 UI GEO contract  states: “Campus policy does not require students who hold summer assistantships to be registered (for classes) during the summer if they were registered for the immediately preceding spring semester or are registered for the immediately following fall semester.”

In contrast, “For summer assistantships,” at SIUC, “a TA, RA or GA must be enrolled as a student for at least three (3) graduate level credit hours,” per Section 5.5.1 of the GAU contract.

Perhaps these items are food for thought to consider when we sit down at the bargaining table in the spring.

James Anderson is a Ph.D. student and the GAU Steward for the College of Mass Communication and Media Arts. His interests include social movements, alternative media, critical theory, prefigurative politics, horizontalidad, political economy and praxis.

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