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Michigan State University settles graduate assistant pay dispute

A $100,000 payment of back pay to graduate teaching assistants at Michigan State University will settle a dispute over the work that such TAs perform between semesters. The summer teaching term has an overlap of a number of days with the spring term, forcing the TAs to perform double duties for a period of time while previously only being paid for one. The union representing the TAs pursued a grievance over the matter, and the matter was all set to go to arbitration for an interpretation of the TA's employment contracts.

The dispute involved the pay of 345 teaching assistance, and the settlement, which derailed the arbitration, involves them splitting up a payment totaling $115,000. In the future, the overlap period will be avoided, and technical problems previously confronted by accounting software will be resolved. The university expressed satisfaction at being able to resolve the dispute over the meaning and application of the parties' collective bargaining agreement without further proceedings.

Arbitrators and courts first look at the plain language contained within the four corners of a written contract to try to discern the intention of the parties. The difficulties sometimes arise when the language is ambiguous or the dispute arises because of circumstances that no one anticipated. It is important to involve experienced lawyers in the initial negotiation and drafting of contracts to help avoid unintended ambiguities. Contract disputes, even if ultimately resolved in your favor, can be expensive to arbitrate or litigate. Experienced attorneys can also include detailed and adequate provisions spelling out specific remedies for what happens when one party to a contract does not live up to their obligations.

Source:  Lansing State Journal, "MSU settles wage dispute with TAs" Matthew Miller, Jan. 22, 2014

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