Administrative law judge rules GEO strike violates contract

The Graduate Employees’ Organization committed an unfair labor practice by violating the no-strike clause in its current contract and walking off the job late last month, a state administrative law judge ruled April 17.

David Peltz, administrative law judge for the Michigan Office of Administrative Hearings and Rules, acting on behalf of the Michigan Employment Relations Commission, issued the decision in response to an unfair labor practice charge the University of Michigan filed on March 29.

“The undisputed facts establish that the GEO engaged in conduct wholly inconsistent with its obligations under the contract,” Peltz wrote in the decision.

“By agreeing to Article III, the GEO is contractually obligated to refrain from causing, instigating, supporting or encouraging any ‘concerted interference with the operation of the University’ including the ‘failure, in whole or part, to fully, faithfully, and properly perform the duties of employment.’”

The decision serves as a recommendation to the full commission for a final decision and can be appealed by GEO. Union leaders have vowed to do so. 

The recommended order is that GEO cease and desist violating its contract, thereby ending the strike. The union should also notify its members that it has committed unfair labor practices and will no longer violate the contract, according to the recommended order.

Article III of the union’s current contract with the university, which expires May 1, states in part, “The Union, through its officials, will not cause, instigate, support or encourage, nor shall any Employee take part in, any concerted action against or any concerted interference with the operations of the University, such as the failure to report for duty, the absence from one’s position, the stoppage of work, or the failure, in whole or part, to fully, faithfully, and properly perform the duties of employment.”

The union went on strike March 29.

“Despite knowing that this strike violates its own contractual promise not to strike, striking GEO members walked out on their students and have declined to return to work,” said U-M spokesperson Rick Fitzgerald. “This has left our students’ exams and final grades in jeopardy at a crucial time near the end of the semester.”

Fitzgerald said university officials continue to believe the best place to resolve these matters is at the bargaining table.

“While the university has worked diligently to ensure that the negative impact felt by students is minimized, it is in the best interest of the entire campus community, especially our undergraduate students, for GEO to stop its strike and return to the classroom,” he said.

GEO Secretary Karthik Ganapathy said it was unfortunate that the university was continuing to pursue legal routes rather than meeting “their ethical obligation to fix the myriad of problems that graduate students face.”

The union has filed three unfair labor practice charges against the university, including one asking MERC to direct the university to bargain with the union on certain subjects that the university has argued are outside the scope of the contract.

“We will appeal the ALJ’s recommended decision to the entire commission, until which time the order is not final,” Ganapathy said. “No court can decide to suspend our strike as the decision to strike (or not) is up to the rank-and-file members of our union.”

U-M and GEO have not reached an agreement on compensation, with the union demanding a 60% pay raise in the first year of its three-year contract. GEO members would earn about $55 per hour next year under the proposal.

The union proposed this raise in November and has not moved from that position despite three counteroffers from the university. Most GEO members are appointed at 50% effort — or about 16-20 hours per week — for two-thirds of the year.

Under the university’s current compensation proposal, GEO members on the Ann Arbor campus would receive 11.5% in total raises over the next three years — 5%, 3.5% and 3% — and make roughly $38-$39 per hour by year three.


  1. Mary Remski
    on April 18, 2023 at 10:57 am

    I believe they have been told the strike is a violation of their contract and they need to return to work. That didn’t work. Perhaps since they have broken the contract, they should not be paid or have any benefits from the moment the strike started. Also, I wouldn’t just let them come back without some form of additional concession on the current contract they have broken by striking.

    • Dylan Baade
      on April 18, 2023 at 2:13 pm

      A workers job is there private property. The right to strike is a first amendment right! A citizen can do anything reasonable with their private property!

  2. Lawrence Knight
    on April 18, 2023 at 8:31 pm

    Dylan Blaade, you are corect, they have a right to strike, after May 1st. They signed a legally binding contract to not do so until the contract is terminated. By doing so they violated the law. They had a right to not sign the current contract as is and strike that portion of the contract out when it was negotiated.

  3. Melissa Asher
    on April 20, 2023 at 3:59 pm

    Still feeling annoyed at these press releases trying to make the grad students look bad with some sneaky hourly wage math. They get a stipend of something like $24k a year for a combination of paid teaching/working and unpaid internship/study. Graduate students frequently work upwards of 50 hours a week, year-round. It’s just that they only get paid for some of them.

    You pay $10 an hour. They want $16. You’re offering 11-12 and taking three years to get there. I’d be ready to break a contract too.

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