The Graduate Employees’ Organization’s decision to strike has moved the University of Michigan to take actions that university leaders say are necessary to ensure U-M can continue to meet its educational mission.
On March 30, the university filed a complaint in Washtenaw County Circuit Court alleging breach of contract by the union for striking, despite its agreement not to do so while the current contract is in effect. U-M is seeking an injunction ordering the striking workers to return to work because the strike is illegal under Michigan law.
That complaint followed an unfair labor practice charge that U-M filed March 29 with the Michigan Employment Relations Commission asking the agency to find GEO in violation of the Michigan Public Employment Relations Act and order the union to stop the illegal strike.
GEO went on strike March 29, about four weeks before its contract with U-M is set to expire May 1. In a March 24 email to the university community following the union’s strike authorization vote, President Santa J. Ono and Provost Laurie McCauley said U-M “will take appropriate lawful actions to enable the continued delivery of our educational mission in the event of a work disruption.”
Besides the steps already taken or planned, actions could include stopping the deduction of union dues and not paying striking graduate student instructors and graduate student staff assistants for time they do not work, the university leaders said.
The university and the union have been negotiating a new contract since Nov. 17, 2022.
GEO announced March 6 that it had filed an unfair labor practice charge against the university, claiming U-M has failed to bargain in good faith.
GEO Secretary Karthik Ganapathy, a Ph.D. candidate in mathematics, responded to the Record on behalf of the union regarding the university’s recent actions.
“It is disappointing to me that instead of negotiating with us in good faith, the university has yet again decided to file an injunction against its own graduate students,” Ganapathy wrote in an email. “When U-M filed an injunction against us in 2020, the community rightly recognized it as an affront to grad workers and organized labor at large.”
Features of the current GEO contract include a tuition waiver of up to $12,947 per semester for in-state students, up to $26,062 per semester for out-of-state students, childcare subsidy for student parents and comprehensive health insurance with no monthly premium.
GEO’s decision to strike is based on a number of issues the two parties have yet to resolve in a new contract, with compensation being the most significant point of contention.
The union’s compensation proposal seeks a 60% wage increase in the first year of its contract, and additional increases tied to inflation 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. Most GEO members work 16-20 hours per week.
“It is in the best interests of us all to provide a compensation and benefits package that is competitive with the best public universities in the country,” Ono and McCauley wrote in their March 24 email. “Doing so ensures we attract and retain the very best graduate student scholars in the world — and support their ability to thrive here.”
The university has indicated classes will continue as scheduled. The university recognizes the essential contributions of GSIs and GSSAs to the academic community and remains committed to bargaining in good faith with GEO, Ono and McCauley wrote.
The university has said it is willing to schedule special negotiations sessions with union leaders. The next scheduled bargaining session is March 31.
— James Iseler of The University Record contributed to this article.