The Graduate Employees’ Organization has petitioned a state agency to direct the University of Michigan to bargain with the union on three proposals — including two that could affect law enforcement activities — as part of ongoing contract negotiations.
The April 3 action came a day before a scheduled hearing in an alleged breach-of-contract suit brought by U-M in Washtenaw County Circuit Court against the union, which went on strike March 29.
The union filed the unfair labor practice charge with the Michigan Employment Relations Commission, its third ULP since negotiations began last fall. The university filed its own unfair labor practice charge March 29, alleging GEO’s strike is a repudiation of the current collective bargaining agreement.
At issue in the union’s latest charge are three proposed changes to the union’s contract and whether U-M is required to bargain over them. The proposals would:
- Fund an unarmed, non-police, urgent-response program separate from the Division of Public Safety and Security that would cover all of Washtenaw County.
- Bar the university from allowing federal agents to enter university property to execute certain search or arrest warrants.
- Compensate social work students for time spent while working in an external internship or field placement.
University negotiators have asserted since bargaining began in November that the three proposals are so-called “permissive subjects” that are outside of the scope of this contract and that U-M is under no obligation to bargain. The university has requested that GEO withdraw the proposals.
“The university is not saying these topics are unimportant, but they are inappropriate subjects to negotiate with just one portion of our community,” said Rick Fitzgerald, university spokesperson. “Instead of trying to force the university to negotiate countywide policing responses, the hope is that the parties can focus on the core issues at hand, such as salary and benefits.”
U-M negotiators said that while they have told the union they are available every day from 8 a.m. to 5 p.m. to work through the contract and end the strike, GEO negotiators so far have only been willing to schedule four additional hours of bargaining for this week.
In its filing before MERC, the union argues that the proposals are “mandatory subjects,” which differ from permissive subjects in that employers and unions are required to negotiate. Mandatory subjects of bargaining include wages, benefits and working conditions.
GEO negotiators have argued, for example, that its unarmed, non-police response proposal is a mandatory subject because it covers the health and safety of its bargaining unit members.
“These issues pertain to the working conditions of graduate students, so the university has an obligation to bargain over these,” GEO Secretary Karthik Ganapathy said.
“However, the university admitted in their own legal filings that they did not fulfill these requirements, which is flabbergasting. This is additional evidence that the university isn’t negotiating in good faith.”
GEO represents nearly 2,300 graduate student instructors and graduate student staff assistants. The union’s current contract with the university expires May 1.
Additionally in the unfair labor practice charge, GEO has asked MERC to direct U-M to “cease imposing preconditions to bargaining.” The two parties have often been at odds over the logistics of negotiating, including who can attend negotiations, the number of people allowed to participate in bargaining and how the meetings will be conducted.
The ULP comes after U-M filed a complaint in Washtenaw County Circuit Court on 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. The university is seeking an injunction ordering the striking workers to return to work because the strike is illegal under Michigan law.