Tuesday, April 17, 2007

A Work Inaction

It appears that graduate teaching assistants are going to strike.

Herald editorial.

From the Teaching Assistant Union (TAU) website:


TAU News

Frequently Asked Questions About Work Action

Is this work action (strike) legal?

No, it is not legal for public employees to strike or engage in work stoppages in the state of Michigan. But it’s important to be specific about what “not legal” means. Striking is not a crime for either the union or the union’s individual members. An individual member cannot be arrested or even ticketed for refusing to work, or for walking a picket line. The University cannot sue the union or individual employees for damages.

Since striking is illegal, the employer can apply for an injunction to compel us to return to work. And if we refuse to comply with the court injunction, the Union as a whole could be subject to fines, and elected leaders could be jailed. But there will be clear opportunities for us to revisit the question of striking against an injunction before those things happen.

Does that mean we can’t strike?

Absolutely not. Many great social movements have involved actions that are technically violations of the law. And while public employees are not granted the right to strike in Michigan, this practice has been used by graduate teachers at other state universities, including the University of Michigan, to fight for fair contracts. In nine and a half days on strike over thirty years of recognition as a union, UM graduate employees have won full tuition remission for everyone working 10 hours per week or more, fully-paid high-quality health insurance for employees and dependents, and salaries 25% than our current GA rates.

On a more technical note, while injunctions can be gotten fairly quickly (in as little as 48 hours) the University does not have to ask for one, and a judge doesn’t have to grant them one. We should be aware of possible worst-case consequences, but do what we feel is right to get a fair contract.

Won’t we be hurting our students?

Our working conditions are undergraduates’ learning conditions. Undergraduates and graduates alike deserve the best learning environment we can provide; at this point, the University’s failure to provide the most basic necessities of life to its teachers harms students’ learning environment more than our work action will. Furthermore, some of our undergraduates will eventually undertake graduate study at Western: what we win in this contract will benefit many of them when they work here as teachers.

This action, in particular, has been selected with great concern for our students. While refusing to proctor final exams will create disruption for the university, the exams will still be prepared and the administration has the opportunity to make arrangements to accommodate students. This action may require extra work for professors around WMU. However, they work under a union contract that provides them with substantially better conditions than ours. For instance, they have high-quality health insurance that participants actually find beneficial, for half the out-of-pocket cost (an annual premium of $500 per employee for us, vs. $250 per employee for tenure-track faculty).

Our contacts with individual faculty and some of their representatives have convinced us that in general, faculty will support our efforts to achieve this contract.

If I vote against this work action, should I participate if the final vote is yes?

As set out in the TAU constitution, decisions involving work actions are made by the membership; that is the essence of a democratic organization. By voting, you implicitly agree to abide by the results--just as you would expect others to abide by the results if the vote were “No.” The results of a vote pertain to all members, just as the election of a political figure is binding even for people who did not vote for the winning candidate.

What will happen if I don’t participate in this work action?

If the membership of TAU calls for a work action and you choose not to participate, you will be working against the efforts of your union. Your actions would weaken the morale of TAs that do participate and send a message to the university that you do not support the Bargaining Team and you would be satisfied with a poor contract. You may also be asked to “scab,” by doing work that members participating in the action will not be doing.


Grad assistants to vote on unionization
Fourteen for Freedom

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