U-M leaders update community on possible GEO strike action


The University of Michigan will continue to hold classes as scheduled and take “appropriate lawful actions” to enable the university to continue meeting its educational mission if the Graduate Employees’ Organization chooses to strike.

In a message shared with the Ann Arbor campus community March 24, President Santa J. Ono and Provost Laurie McCauley said school, college and department leaders are planning for substitute instructors, alternative assignments and other means for delivering instruction if it is required, but added they hope to resolve remaining areas of disagreement with the union soon through “thoughtful and productive discussions at the bargaining table.”

“We remain confident that this is the best venue for achieving a fair and forward-looking contract agreement and ensuring the university and union members can do what they do best, by continuing to provide a world-class education,” Ono and McCauley wrote.

The message came less than 12 hours after GEO members voted to authorize a strike, empowering the union’s leadership to call a work stoppage at any time. The union represents about 2,300 graduate student instructors and graduate student staff assistants.

The university and the union have been negotiating a new contract since Nov. 17, 2022. The union’s current contract with the university – which includes a commitment to not strike – expires May 1.

GEO’s threat to strike is based on a number of issues the two parties have not yet resolved, from among more than 50 contract changes GEO has proposed since the beginning of bargaining.

Primary among them is the union’s compensation proposal, which demands that members receive a 60% wage increase in the first year of their contract, and additional increases in the second and third years. GEO proposed this raise in November and has not moved from that position despite three counteroffers from the university.

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%, 3% — and make roughly $38-$39 per hour by year three.

Other union demands include that the university fund a non-police urgent response program separate from the Division of Public Safety and Security and available throughout Washtenaw County, and bar federal agents from entering university property to execute certain search or arrest warrants.

University negotiators have argued that these issues, while important, are outside the scope of the union’s contract and it would be inappropriate for one bargaining unit to decide for the entire university community.

GEO members also have demanded that GSIs have unilateral authority to shift classes remotely for any health and safety reason, something the university sees as an overreach that would be “detrimental to the university’s core identity as a residential institution and its commitment to ensuring continuity of education for our undergraduate students.”

In an email response to the Record, GEO Contract Committee Chair Amir Fleischmann said union members are disappointed by the president and provost’s email.

“The overwhelming number of graduate workers who voted to authorize a strike should tell them that what they are offering us is not sufficient to meet our needs,” Fleischmann said.

“Not mentioned in their email were our proposals for a more accessible child-care subsidy, for co-pay-free mental health care, for transitional funding for survivors of harassment, or an emergency fund for international student workers — proposals AHR (Academic Human Resources) has roundly rejected.

“Their email includes misinformation about our public safety demands. We are not asking the university to refuse to fulfill warrants; we are asking U-M to join the numerous other universities who have Sanctuary Campus policies.”

It is unclear when or whether GEO leadership is planning to call a strike. State law prohibits public employees from striking.

In their email to the university community, Ono and McCauley wrote that a strike would prompt a number of university responses, including asking a court to find a breach of contract and order strikers back to work, stopping the deduction of union dues, filing unfair labor practice charges, and not paying striking GSIs and GSSAs for time they do not work.

Ono and McCauley wrote that they still believe any unresolved issues are best ironed out through thoughtful and productive discussions at the bargaining table.

“It is in the best interests of us all — faculty, students, staff and graduate employees — to provide a compensation and benefits package that is competitive with the best public universities in the country,” they wrote. “Doing so ensures we attract and retain the very best graduate student scholars in the world — and support their ability to thrive here.”

James Iseler of The University Record contributed to this article.



  1. Matthew Gutierrez
    on March 27, 2023 at 8:28 am

    This article states that graduate students would make $38-$39/hr under the proposed contract, but that is deliberately misleading. That hourly wages comes from an idea that grad students only work 20 hours a week, while most graduate students work closer to 50-60. Additionally, graduate students are not allowed to take other jobs if they are a GSI or GSRA, so this funding has to be their sole source of income while living in Ann Arbor. They should give the number in terms of pay per semester or in terms of yearly salary. Grad students do not work an hourly schedule, so giving their pay as a per hour rate is intentionally misleading.

  2. Richard Stewart
    on March 27, 2023 at 10:18 am

    I don’t think it is misleading. GSI positions are 50% FTE, correct? So yes, the GSI salary is calculated with the assumption that a graduate student would be spending ~20hr per week on GSI duties. Sure, the actual amount of time can waver, but I’ve never heard of a student spending 50-60 hours a week on GSI duties. If they were, something would be seriously wrong and they should bring it up with the professor or some higher up.

    I think that you’re actually conflating time spent as a GSI and time spent in pursuit of a degree, which are two different things. GSIs get paid for the former, but not the latter. If you ask me, it is a pretty good deal to get ~20hr per week of graduate study subsidized by teaching.

    Just for the record, it is illegal to force a graduate student to work more than 40 hours per week. If this is the case, then the student should seek out available resources to deal with it. Granted, many students do work more than 40 hours per week to get ahead, but that’s voluntary and therefore a different set of circumstances.

    And the university just released these numbers for eligible PhD students, but I’m not sure who’s exactly eligible: ‘For the 2022–23 academic year, this funding amount is $12,028 per term, or $36,084 for 12 months.’

    • Jennifer Piemonte
      on March 27, 2023 at 12:18 pm

      GSI appointments may be for 50% FTE or 20 hours a week, but the other 50% or 20 hours a week is also spent working for the university. Research, scholarship, and other products may count towards a student’s degree, but it also counts towards what U-M gets to boast as its output, inventions, and intellectual property.

      Graduate students are full time employees and should be paid as such– at minimum their pay should meet the cost of living associated with the location of a “residential” institution and workplace.

  3. Mary Remski
    on March 28, 2023 at 1:54 pm

    I believe they need a little perspective in reality. University nurses didn’t get that kind of a raise in their contract, and they literally save lives for a living. A cost-of-living increase would be okay and would be great for all of us working at the University, but the current cost of living didn’t go up 60% and this demand is outrageous. I have worked here for over 30 years, to think student teachers believe they should make more than I do (or than nurses that have been here for over 20 years) and get larger raises is just so wrong. I guarantee my current salary is not even 60% higher than my hire in wage was over 30 years ago. The largest annual raise I have gotten was this year’s 5% and the nurses got 7.5%, there have been years when raises have been less than 3% and years when raises didn’t occur but instead a lump sum “bonus” was given. The recent nursing contract gives them a 22.5% raise over their 4-year contract and a one-time bonus the first year along with a retention bonus at year 2. How do these students deserve better? Likewise, as a 4th generation Washtenaw County resident, I feel it is safe to say, letting a group who is here for a short period of time turn us into a sanctuary area for those who don’t want to follow our country’s immigration policies is not acceptable. This decision, and other regarding the community, should be up to those living here for the long haul not the short term. While their thoughts on things that can make this community a better place are welcome, it should be up to everyone living in the affected area (be it city or county) to decide if they should be implemented not just a group of students who will be leaving when they finish school.

    • Tahir Abdullah
      on March 29, 2023 at 2:31 pm

      Sounds to me like the nurses need to strike for a living wage!

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