A 13-day strike by the Graduate Employees’ Organization will continue as the winter semester draws to a close, after a judge ruled the University of Michigan administration did not prove the work stoppage has caused “irreparable harm” to the institution.
Washtenaw County Circuit Judge Carol Kuhnke on April 10 denied the university’s request for a preliminary injunction that would have ordered a halt to the strike among graduate student instructors and graduate student staff assistants.
In her ruling, which came at the end of a daylong hearing, Kuhnke said that while the university demonstrated a negative impact to both students and the university, it was not able to meet the high standard of demonstrating “irreparable harm” necessary for the court to grant the injunction.
University spokesperson Kim Broekhuizen said that while the university is disappointed in the court’s decision, university officials appreciated the judge’s acknowledgement that U-M students are being harmed.
“The university remains ready and willing to negotiate,” Broekhuizen said. “In the meantime, our top priority continues to be carrying out the educational mission of this university.”
The union, which represents nearly 2,300 GSIs and GSSAs, walked off the job March 29, about four weeks before its contract with U-M was set to expire. U-M filed the complaint in circuit court March 30 alleging breach of contract by the union for striking despite its agreement not to do so while the current contract is in effect.
GEO leaders described Monday’s decision as “a massive victory for graduate workers and working people across the whole state of Michigan.”
“The court upheld workers’ right to strike,” GEO President Jared Eno said. “We’ve been saying all along that the university’s move to use the courts to force workers back on the job was an unjustifiable abuse of the legal system. Today, the court agreed.”
The university has an additional suit in circuit court seeking damages for breach of contract. GEO and U-M also have a number of unfair labor practice charges pending before the Michigan Employment Relations Commission.
The union’s decision to strike is based on several issues the two parties have yet to resolve in a new contract, with compensation being the most significant point of contention. Most GEO members are appointed at 50% effort — or about 16-20 hours per week — for two-thirds of the year.
GEO’s compensation proposal seeks a 60% wage increase in the first year of its contract, and additional increases tied to inflation in the second and third years. The union proposed this raise in November and has not moved from that position despite three counteroffers from the university.
GEO members would earn about $55 per hour next year under GEO’s proposed raise.
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.
Meanwhile, the Senate Advisory Committee on University Affairs issued a statement April 10 asking for a speedy negotiation between the administration and GEO, saying it supports “fair wages and fair negotiation.”
“We are concerned with the university’s request for an injunction and its potential negative impact on the university community. We value both the well-being of all our students and the strength and vitality of the University of Michigan,” read the statement approved by the executive arm of U-M’s central faculty governance system.
Negotiations between the two parties are scheduled to continue April 11-14.
(Note: This story has been updated from its original version to clarify a quote by GEO President Jared Eno.)