Graduate assistant members at MSU Bozeman ratify their first contract

Dec. 10, 2014
 

For more information:
 

Jim Junker, President, GEO, 651.587.1477

Eric Feaver, President, MEA-MFT, 406.442.4250
 

Graduate assistant union members at MSU Bozeman ratify their first contract 
 

Graduate teaching and research assistants at MSU Bozeman will get a fairer deal on the job now that they have bargained and ratified their first contract.

 
GEO Vice President Nellie Ciesielski helps a new member sign up on contract ratification day.

 

Members of the union that represents these employees, the Graduate Employees Organization (GEO), voted to ratify the contract December 5. The vote was unanimous in favor of the contract.
 

GEO is affiliated with MEA-MFT, Montana’s largest union representing 18,000 educators and public employees in Montana.
 

GEO’s contract is “a great first step,” said Jim Junker, president of GEO. “It’s a huge recognition of the work we do here in both instruction and research. We started GEO because we felt our contribution was going unnoticed. We finally have a voice in how the school treats us and how our working conditions are handled.”
 

Junker has been a graduate employee at MSU Bozeman for six years, through his master’s program and now his doctoral work in stream ecology -- which has included research in Iceland.
 

“The best part is getting some recognition – and getting a raise,” said GEO member Shari Samuels, a teaching assistant in the math department. Some graduate employees on campus have not seen a raise in over a decade.
 

Samuels, who is working on her doctoral degree in math education, said she got involved in forming GEO nearly four years ago when she saw the disparities between wages and job conditions for graduate employees at MSU Bozeman.
 

Some graduate employees are paid less than minimum wage, she pointed out. Many have had no benefits and no grievance procedures if they had problems with their employers.
 

“Once I heard those stories, I really wanted to get involved,” she said. “We were doing similar work but not being treated the same.”
 

The GEO’s new contract addresses some of those disparities. The contract was a long time coming. “Bargaining went on for eight months,” said Jan Boyer, a research assistant who studies native mountain whitefish.
 

Boyer, along with Samuels, Junker, and other GEO members, spent part of December 5 overseeing the ratification voting at various sites around campus.
 

MSU Bozeman has about 640 graduate assistants who teach and do research for various departments. They provide a major benefit to the university and its students. But the university has for years considered them to be only students and not employees.
 

Having a union and a contract will change that. It will help the university better understand how the graduate assistance program works and what a graduate employee’s day is like, Junker said. And it will give GEO members insight into how the university functions. “It will make things more efficient and effective and help keep MSU a competitive institution of higher education,” he said.
 

While the contract benefits all graduate employees, only GEO members were eligible to vote on it – a fact that inspired several graduate employees to join the union December 5. “You get a seat at the table when you’re a member,” said one of them.
 

Highlights of GEO’s first contract include the following:
 

• $1,200 additional payment for a 10-month appointment.
 

• $360 retroactive payment to continuing graduate employees who were employed in October, November, and December 2014.
 

• In-state tuition status for all graduate employees.
 

• Minimum salary increased to $650/month.
 

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MEA-MFT represents more than 18,000 Montana k-12 teachers and school support staff, higher education faculty, state and county employees, Head Start, and health care employees.

 

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