GEO votes to strike; U-M says it violates contract, state law


The Graduate Employees’ Organization, the union representing about 2,000 graduate student instructors and graduate student staff assistants across the University of Michigan’s three campuses, has voted to go on strike for four days starting Sept. 8.

The strike vote over the Labor Day weekend followed weeks of discussions with university officials over a wide range of issues, many of them related to U-M’s plans for a mostly remote hybrid fall semester prompted by the COVID-19 pandemic.

Most of the issues are unrelated to the employment status of GEO members. They encompass broader societal issues, student matters, or issues impacting the employment and status of other faculty and staff at the university, said Rick Fitzgerald, university spokesperson.  

GEO called for a strike even though state law and the current GEO contract with U-M, ratified in April, prohibit such action, Fitzgerald said. The university is prepared to continue operations, including classes.

In a statement on its website, GEO, which is affiliated with the American Federation of Teachers, said members would strike until U-M “adequately addresses our concerns.”

Those concerns have been articulated to the university in recent discussions. They include:

  • Transparency on robust COVID-19 testing, contact tracing and safety plans.
  • Allowing all GSIs to decide for themselves to work remotely.
  • Cutting the budget for the Division of Public Safety & Security by half.
  • Ending all ties with the Ann Arbor Police Department and the federal Immigration and Customs Enforcement.
  • Repeal of the $500-per-term international student fee.
  • More flexible financial aid child care subsidies.
  • A $2,500 payment to all graduate students and time-to-degree extensions for Ph.D. students.

With nearly 80 percent of all undergraduate credit hours being offered remotely, the university has granted the requests of all GSIs who have expressed a need or preference to work remotely, said Fitzgerald.

Fitzgerald said the university has shared detailed and robust plans for COVID-19 testing and contact tracing, with information about the situation on campus and in the region regularly updated and publicly available on the U-M COVID-19 dashboard.

The U-M COVID-19 testing plan was designed based on detailed input from dozens of experts including several faculty members from the School of Public Health who are also advising Gov. Gretchen Whitmer. It is broad-based and has multiple components, including:

  • Surveillance testing of 3,000 faculty, staff and students per week.
  • Baseline testing of nearly 6,000 students before they moved into Michigan Housing.
  • Testing of residents of affiliated fraternity or sorority facilities.
  • Symptomatic testing of students through University Health Service, and of faculty and staff through Occupational Health Services.
  • Exposure testing for close contacts identified though case investigation, contact tracing or workplace exposure investigations.
  • Antibody testing for Michigan Medicine faculty and staff involved in patient care.
  • Daily symptom tracking through the ResponsiBLUE health screening tool.

In addition, School of Public Health researchers are studying wastewater samples and taking measurements of air to determine the presence of COVID-19 in the campus environment, and whether that has any relationship on infection rates within the university community.

Most of GEO’s stated issues are not related to their status as employees, the university says. Rather, they relate to graduate students generally or the broader university community, which are not subject to union negotiations.

“A strike at this time is taking an illegal job action over issues that are not related to their employment and therefore unresolvable through the methods that are available to both the university and GEO under the GEO contract,” Fitzgerald said.



  1. Crystal Cole
    on September 8, 2020 at 8:49 am

    Half of this article is quoted from Rick Fitzgerald. Did the author reach out to GEO for comment, or just visit their website? I’d like to see a better balance of opinions here.

    • Danielle Trejo
      on September 8, 2020 at 9:30 am

      Absolutely agree with Crystal on this one. There does not appear to be a balance here. I would be interested in hearing from the GEO.

    • Stephen Erskine
      on September 11, 2020 at 7:43 am

      Kim Jung Un would approve of the objectiveness of this ‘article’

  2. Jasmine Ehrhardt
    on September 8, 2020 at 11:29 am

    Due to the LACK of GEO voices in this article, here’s the missing info that would round out an otherwise limited and narrow article:

    GEO is fighting for a safe and just campus for its members and beyond: GEO opposes the University’s reckless reopening plans [’s-reopening-plans-—-wolverine-culture-carnage], which puts workers and vulnerable members of our community in grave danger, and contradicts the recommendations [] of its own COVID Ethics committee and public health experts [].

    Five U-M workers have already died, and we do not know how many more are expected to die as a result of U-M’s decision to bring 30,000 students back to campus. This is because despite repeated requests, U-M refuses to share any information about what public health models it is using (if any), or to include key stakeholder groups in the reopening decision-making process.

    We/GEO members want a guaranteed right to work remotely for all graduate workers, a funded one-year extension to degree milestone requirements, increased international student support, and compassionate and flexible subsidies to parents and caregivers, who have seen their childcare subsidies vanish. We are on strike because campus police should not be carrying lethal weapons, deploying surveillance technologies without oversight, and consuming $17M of public funds. You can find out more at

    Those who stand in solidarity with GEO are encouraged to sign up for picket shifts (in-person or remote) at Information for undergraduate students specifically can be found at We also ask you to email President Mark Schlissel ( and the U-M Regents ( in support of graduate student and #ScholarStrike demands. Thanks 🙂

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