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.
Unsurprisingly, another garbage statement by U-M. This University proves time and time again that it does not care for it’s workers, especially it’s most vulnerable; it does not care about DEI, only about the good press DEI brings. The University can afford to pay it’s grad student workers what they were asking; it chooses not to. Does Ono need nearly a million dollar salary? Does its top admin with lower appointments and wildly less important work than it’s grad students deserve 100s of thousands per year? I don’t think so. Grad students are the reason this University can function. Grad students are the reason this University community has value. I don’t give a damn about admins or Ono. Grad students can barely pay rent. Also the University didn’t bother to target striking workers with no pay this month – it did it to everyone. Also, Is the University’s official statement that it’s okay to drive a car into striking workers?
Read GEO’s website and statements: https://www.geo3550.org/
This statement is troubling given its lack of impartiality. UM clearly uses the Record (a university resource) to convey highly biased points of view without clarifying an apparent conflict of interest or presenting a balanced view from both sides. For example, why are quotes from UM officials presented so differently from quotes from GEO leadership (which are in parentheses and italics as if they are second-rate sources?!). Those reading the Record for “news” should exercise caution.
As a graduate student and GEO member, I have attended more than 10 bargaining sessions this semester, including the standing Friday sessions and extra weekday and Sunday sessions throughout April. In that time, I have witnessed Academic Human Resources (AHR) push for extra meeting sessions and then show up with nothing to pass. To imply that GEO has not made movement is false and shows a lack of willingness by the Record to move beyond the talking points and narrative that AHR and others in authority positions at UM are trying to push.
If AHR claims that they are “unable to bargain any further,” that only signals to me that they had very little interest in engaging in bargaining in the first place.
For Record readers who would like to access GEO’s website and statements, please visit: https://www.geo3550.org/
“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.”
This is not true. The revised proposal capped the summer compensation at 0.5 FTE, which represents a decrease in the total cost.
Also, from another logical point of view, the Rackham money to get to 36k/yr funding has already been approved and budgeted for. All grad students are asking for is to get to 38k/yr, and to guarantee such funding in the contract. This is fair and reasonable.
The Rackham proposal covers only Ann Arbor Ph.D.. students and grinds Dearborn and Flint into the dust.
32M dollars are .28% of the 22/23 revenue (https://finance.umich.edu/analysis/fy-2021-2022-budget-now-available). Could HR please explain why we cannot spend one quarter of one percent of our revenue on making sure our graduate students can pay their rents, rents driven up by the University in general and by Regent Ron Weiser, a massive Ann Arbor landlord, specifically?
To other commenters: the Record is not journalism. It is merely a mouthpiece for the University. It only accepts articles from official sources within its own system. To expect integrity is to expect more than the Record can deliver.
It sets my teeth on edge to read Fitzgerald claim that the University is “committed to negotiations” with GEO and that it is GEO who has not “offered substantive counterproposals” when, in fact, it is AHR that is coming to the table, week after week, with nothing serious. The compensation offers are laughable and AHR has admitted that they are arbitrary, using circular logic to justify its refusal to meet grad worker’s most basic needs of shelter, food, and medical care. Meanwhile, GEO has done its homework and presented evidence-based proposals that are solutions to the problems grad workers face. UM is choosing to bring an inhumane, adversarial, miserly mindset to negotiations instead of recognizing graduate workers as the assets they are and INVESTING in them. UM refuses to see that supporting its GSI’s, who comprise 28% of the university’s teaching staff, would make the university a stronger place for all. There is an alternate version of this story that could be so easy for UM to bring to fruition and it would only bring benefits to those who claim to be “leaders & best.”
Basic needs vs extravagant wants. Affordable housing on campus should be made available but most do not want to live on campus. They want off campus apartments in Ann Arbor. Why should this group be given more than any other group working here? Others are making ends meet, both students that aren’t GSIs and other staff member working here. Students need to be taught to live within their means before they come to college. GEO needs to stop demanding pay that is more than what most staff are making when they work 40 hours per week 52 weeks a year. You don’t get full-time wages for working 20 hours a week 32 weeks a year. That is the reality.
You’re right, we should all unionize and strike for hire wages, because we all deserve a living one.
Campus housing is extremely limited, and also not free; it’s on par to some of the crappier apartments on the outskirts of town. Grad students do more than instruct 20 hours – their research and grading, for example, for which they are not paid any more. GSIs generate $200,000,000 in surplus for the university – what they are asking for in compensation would cost the U $33,000,000. That’s plenty left over. The U can afford to pay their student workers.
Personally I would like everyone to be able to afford a graduate education, not just rich people. You should check GEO’s website for accurate information about what they do: https://www.geo3550.org/
I thought it was common knowledge among U-M staff members that Ph.D. students work 40 hours a week, 52 weeks a year. When we get hired as GSIs, 20 hours a week go to that teaching appointment, but we still spend 20+ hours a week on our research. We are full-time employees currently receiving part-time paychecks.