The University of Michigan and the Graduate Employees’ Organization have reached an agreement to resolve several unfair labor practice complaints filed as part of ongoing contract negotiations between the two parties.
The agreement settles three separate charges the union had pending before the Michigan Employment Relations Commission, as well as one pending charge filed by the university.
U-M also agreed to drop a lawsuit against GEO that sought damages for the union breaching its contract when members went on strike March 29, in violation of state law and their contract’s no-strike clause. The settlement allows U-M to refile the lawsuit seeking those damages at any time.
University spokesperson Kim Broekhuizen said the settlement allows the university to concentrate its efforts on negotiations and the fact-finding process, in which a neutral fact finder appointed by the state conducts public hearings with both parties and issues recommendations on the contract provisions still in dispute.
“Ideally, this matter would be settled at the bargaining table just like we do with the dozen unions we work with at the university,” Broekhuizen said. “But both sides need to want to come together and be serious about negotiating. So far, GEO hasn’t shown a willingness to do this. Our negotiating team — with the support of a neutral state-appointed mediator — continues to ask GEO to bargain more frequently and has made itself available every day.”
Broekhuizen said the union has agreed to bargain for only two days in June and has not agreed to any days in July or August.
“Amidst an ongoing strike that has implications for thousands of workers and tens of thousands of students, GEO has agreed to just two days of negotiations,” Broekhuizen said. “That alone shows the union’s lack of seriousness in working toward a resolution.”
GEO President Jared Eno said the administration’s approach to negotiations has “relied almost exclusively on legal stunts rather than serious bargaining.”
“They called in a mediator, sought an injunction, filed ULPs, sued us for damages, initiated state-led fact finding, and are threatening workers with prosecution,” Eno said. “It seems the university will do anything to avoid dealing with its own workers.
“The university has failed to end this strike because none of its strategies have engaged with the urgent cost-of-living, health and safety crises that graduate workers are trying to address. We remain ready to bargain whenever the administration is ready to treat its workers with respect.”
GEO represents graduate student instructors and graduate student staff assistants. The union’s contract with the university expired May 3.
The unfair labor practice complaints that are now settled included one filed by GEO petitioning MERC to direct the university to bargain over three proposals that U-M has argued are “permissive subjects” outside the scope of the contract. The proposals would:
- Require the university to issue a request for proposals for an independent, unarmed, non-police urgent response program funded and operated separately from the Division of Public Safety and Security.
- Compensate social work students for time spent while working in an external internship or field placement.
- Bar the university from allowing federal agents to enter university property to execute certain search or arrest warrants.
Also settled in the agreement is an unfair labor practice complaint filed by the university alleging the ongoing GEO strike was a repudiation of the collective bargaining agreement, which expired May 3. As part of the settlement, the union agreed that a prior decision issued by a MERC administrative law judge supporting the university’s claim will stand.
“While we remain adamant that the administration’s actions throughout this bargaining process represent clear and unacceptable violations of state labor law, this settlement means that our bargaining team — made up exclusively of graduate workers with full-time jobs — will be able to focus this summer on negotiating a great contract for our members,” said Evelyn Smith, GEO’s lead negotiator.
As the two parties enter the fact-finding process, the biggest sticking point continues to be compensation. Since negotiations began in November, the union has demanded a 60% pay raise in the first year of its three-year contract. GEO members, who currently earn about $35 per hour, would earn about $55 per hour next year under the GEO proposal.
The university’s latest pay proposal — the fourth since bargaining began — would provide GEO members on the Ann Arbor campus 12.5% in total raises over the next three years — 5%, 4% and 3.5%, respectively. GEO members on the Dearborn and Flint campuses would receive 6.75% in total raises over the same period.