U-M leaders outline GSI, GSSA expectations for fall


University of Michigan officials have informed graduate student instructors and graduate student staff assistants that employees who participate in a strike this fall will be subject to replacement for the entire semester.

Graduate employees engaged in the work stoppage also will “likely be removed from the system as a course instructor and will lose access to the Canvas site(s) for the course,” according to an email message from Provost Laurie McCauley sent Aug. 7.

The message, sent as the university readies for the start of the fall term in three weeks, comes amid an ongoing contract dispute with the Graduate Employees’ Organization, the union representing GSIs and GSSAs. The union’s prior contract expired on May 3.

“As we attempt to reach an agreement, ensuring the continuity of education for our students is non-negotiable,” McCauley wrote. “A semester that allows our students to pursue their education is an inflexible expectation of our students, their families, deans, university leaders, and the Board of Regents.”

McCauley said campus deans have developed and endorsed the guidelines, along with the Office of the Provost, to “support the continuity of instruction in the event of a work stoppage” this fall.

The email specifies that all instructors are expected to fulfill their instructional responsibilities, which include, but are not limited to, creating a syllabus and Canvas site for every course, teaching scheduled classes, grading student work and submitting grades on time.

“When instructors choose not to fulfill their teaching responsibilities, it disrupts students’ education, damages the quality of instruction, and can cause other harm,” she said. “This is a serious breach of the trust that our students place in us as educators and in their reliance on the institution to deliver on our educational mission.”

GEO representatives did not respond to an inquiry seeking comment Monday afternoon.

Additional guidelines for GSIs and GSSAs listed in the message include:

  • GSIs and GSSAs will be required to complete weekly online forms attesting that they have completed their work duties.
  • GSIs and GSSAs not fulfilling their job duties will not receive their stipend for any period during which they are not completing their duties.
  • GSIs who engage in a work stoppage will be subject to replacement for the entire semester if the university hires or assigns another individual to perform their duties, or if the university restructures the course. The person hired or assigned to cover the GSI’s course will not be subject to displacement during the semester.
  • GSIs engaged in the work stoppage likely will be removed from the system as a course instructor and will lose access to the Canvas site(s) for the course.
  • GSIs and GSSAs who claim medical leave during the duration of a strike will be required to provide verifiable, written proof from their health-care provider of the reason or reasons enumerated in the former contract to substantiate their need to use paid sick time.

Meanwhile, negotiations between the two parties continue this week.

The university’s latest proposal to GEO fell through Aug. 4 after union members said the deadline for approving the deal “did not allow for the time needed to have rigorous, collective discussions about the offer.” GEO leadership received key details of the proposal, including salary information, on July 31, and a written proposal on Aug. 2.

That deal — brokered with the assistance of the Board of Regents; David Hecker, former president of the Michigan organization of the American Federation of Teachers; and Kirsten Herold, president of the Lecturers’ Employee Organization and secretary-treasurer of AFT Michigan — would have provided GSIs and GSSAs on the Ann Arbor campus with 20% in total raises over the next three years — 8%, 6% and 6%, respectively — along with a $1,000 bonus this fall.

McCauley said the offer was intended to get the parties to a final resolution of all terms.

“Given the imminent arrival of the fall term, this offer was accompanied by a deadline of Friday, August 4 at 4:59 p.m.,” she said. “The union neither accepted nor rejected the offer, and thus it expired. As a result, the offer was withdrawn and the university’s current proposal is its May 12 proposal.”

The May 12 offer 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.



  1. Andrew Robbins
    on August 8, 2023 at 10:39 am

    “While the making of a proposal in contract negotiations which offers less than the party’s previous proposal is not per se bad faith, successively less generous offers, when made without reasonable justification and without any significant compensatory proposals, may indicate an intention not to reach an agreement.” (City of Springfield, 13 MPER P 31002)

  2. Crystal Cole
    on August 9, 2023 at 11:33 am

    Offering a written proposal on August 2nd and setting a deadline of August 4th for response from GEO speaks volumes. “Claim this limited time offer!” is not good taste nor good practice. This is disappointing.

  3. Myles Zhang
    on August 9, 2023 at 12:29 pm

    The university offered no compelling reasons why GEO had to ratify by August 4 the proposal made August 2. This is only a 48 hours turnaround after GEO received this offer in writing.

    The regents and administrators had several weeks to write their August 2 proposal. GEO needed at least a week to read this offer and consider it with the care and detail it deserved. It will need to be ratified (or ratified with amendments) by a majority of the 2,000 members of GEO starting tomorrow.

    The university has claimed for months that GEO’s proposals are too expensive, not sustainable, and that stipends adjusted for the high cost of living in Ann Arbor are un-reasonble. The August 2 proposal from the university would have met many of GEO demands. However, to withdraw this proposal undermines the university’s own ability to claim in future negotiations that they do not have the resources to meet GEO demands. The university just showed their cards and what they can offer.

    Let us be clear that this is a power move by the university: To show who is in charge and to assert its power to shape negotiations at will. GEO’s response that we need more time to counterproposal is a statement that: Open bargaining means open bargaining, a radically transparent democratic process that allows every GEO member to shape on and vote on the conditions of our workplace.

  4. Silke-Maria Weineck
    on August 9, 2023 at 12:33 pm

    It is embarrassing to witness my university engage in these tactics — whether it’s threatening to immiserate several cohorts of graduate students for exercising their labor rights (surely, we all recognize the law that prohibits public sector employees for striking as the anti-labor legislation it is) or to make “exploding offers” as if we were run by Mafia bosses.

  5. Kirsten Herold
    on August 13, 2023 at 7:22 pm

    Having bargained 6 contracts with the University, I will say with complete confidence that an “exploding” offer is a common tactic to end negotiations, with or without a strike; LEO accepted one in 2010 after we had bargained for many many months. It is similar to a so-called package: we will give you A if you in turn agree to B, which happens all the time.

    Re the 48 hr turn around, the offer did not ask members to have ratified by Friday but for leadership to commit to sending it out to a ratification vote, which is quite different.

Leave a comment

Commenting is closed for this article. Please read our comment guidelines for more information.