The University of Michigan has informed the Graduate Employees’ Organization that it has bargained as far as it can on many issues, largely because GEO has made little or no substantive movement over the course of 28 bargaining sessions since November 2022.
The university administration took that stance April 21 with the union during a bargaining session attended by less than half the GEO bargaining team, which then unilaterally ended negotiations two hours early. The parties are scheduled to meet again April 24.
Before the April 21 session ended, the union presented a restructured salary proposal that carries the same total cost as its original proposal — a 60% increase in the first year. The revised proposal does not change the increased cost of $32 million in the first year.
GEO has been on strike since March 29.
The university remains committed to negotiating a contract with GEO to succeed the existing one that expires May 1, and continue to engage productively with the union, said Rick Fitzgerald, interim vice president for communications.
“When, or if, GEO presents substantive counterproposals that indicate its willingness to engage productively, rather than its practice of repeatedly presenting its same proposals or adding additional conditions, the university will respond accordingly,” Fitzgerald said.
(GEO provided the Record with the following statement from Secretary Karthik Ganapathy: “We have made significant movement, including on our wage demand. Our bargaining team has also come up with alternatives to address the concerns that the university’s representatives raised about our original proposals, while at the same time solving the real problems we face. Academic HR has not offered any solutions and are instead waiting for us to throw some of our most struggling members under the bus, which we will not do.”)
Regents weigh in
The eight elected members of the U-M Board of Regents expressed their collective concern in a public statement addressing an April 20 confrontation between GEO protesters and President Santa J. Ono.
The regents said the actions of “unruly GEO protesters came dangerously close to violence” when they “stormed a local Ann Arbor restaurant where U-M President Santa J. Ono was meeting with students for dinner.”
In their statement, regents said protesters banged on restaurant windows and blocked and pounded on a U-M Police vehicle in which Ono was a passenger. Two offenders were temporarily detained.
“This type of threatening behavior is wholly unacceptable,” the regents wrote.
“We call on GEO leaders to stop actively disrupting the education of their fellow students, cease harassing our president and come to the bargaining table ready to recommit themselves to the critically important collective bargaining process.
“The only way to achieve any of the goals GEO has outlined in its bargaining platform is to focus their efforts on bargaining. Real collective bargaining.”
(GEO provided the Record with the following statement from Lucy Peterson, co-chair of the Organizing Committee: “It is frustrating that the regents have not publicly weighed in on the administration’s alarming decision to post illegitimate grades for undergraduate students or the punitive approach to docking pay for many GSIs including those not on strike. Disappointingly, their first public statement since the start of negotiations contains troubling mischaracterizations of the actions of striking workers, includes misinformation about negotiations, and stays irresponsibly silent about the escalatory behavior of armed campus police.”)
Concern over pay
Some GEO members have expressed concern that the university is withholding their pay and taking this action before the end of the month, when GEO members are typically paid.
The university has been clear from the start of the strike that GEO members who do not work will not be paid. Since the strike began March 29, the April pay cycle is the first time GEO members will feel the effects of the university’s decision, Fitzgerald said.
In an April 21 email to graduate student instructors and graduate student staff assistants, university officials also clarified the process by which GEO members must attest whether they are working or not, and provided updated deadlines for completing a survey that provides information about who is working and who is not.
Safety during protests
The university is committed to maintaining an environment that is safe and free from violence and will not tolerate violent or threatening behavior, Fitzgerald said.
All university community members are expected to maintain a climate of behavior that does not foster acts of violence, threats and aggression as detailed under university Standard Practice Guide 601.18: Violence in the university community.
The Division of Public Safety and Security, led by Executive Director Eddie Washington, supports the right to free speech and assembly and provides resources to assist organizers in planning a safe protest or demonstration and to assist attendees in staying safe.
Should a demonstration, protest, or behavior of involved individuals create unsafe conditions or unlawful conduct occurs, such as violence, property damage, activity that interferes with the rights of others or the lawful operations and functions of a building, or other unlawful behavior, DPSS officers will intervene and move forward with accountability measures for the community’s safety.