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.
I would like to point out that graduate student workers would make $38k a year under the proposed contract, and that the University of Michigan rates in the bottom 20% for graduate student compensation amongst peer universities. Some graduate student worker are currently making less than $25k a year, and are not allowed to have outside employment.
Asking for the ability to have outside employment as long as your teaching obligations are met, and your grades don’t drop below passing for the classes you are taking would be a reasonable request. Expecting to be paid more money than is being offered is not. The GEO needs a reality check, I have been here for over 30 years, work full time with weekend and holiday requirements and still make less than $24/hr.
Your Beef is not with your fellow workers it is with your employer! University of Michigan’s policie is to stay neutral when workers start a union campaign I encourage you to start talking to your fellow workers and contact a union! I also would like to point out that if GEO wins this strike or just by them striking it benefits every worker on campus especially every bargaining unit on campus. Asking for fair pay, insurance all year around which they do not get and more infrastructure for the disabled is fair and reasonable! According to my math GEO is not asking for a 60% pay hike they’re asking for a 37% pay hike.The University acting like 11.5%, is groundbreaking and by the university’s own emittance it will be the highest raises offered to GEO in 15 years is shocking in a way and completely expected I’m sad to say. I cannot believe that they don’t realize how ridiculous that looks when they put that to print. It’s a common Trade union principle to not even start negotiations below 3% a year our last collective bargaining agreement for my union raised wages throughout the contract 17%. I encourage you to give this some thought do not hold solidarity with the folks that you truly have the problem with hold solidarity with your fellow workers.
It would be good to provide the number of hours worked each week that comprises the annual salary. This limited information does not provide a full picture. There’s additional information beyond this that should be included when doing a comparison to other schools.
I should note, I am in favor of some points to this but not in others but if someone were to make a decision on whether they agreed with everything as a whole based on the information provided here, it would not be a good decision, regardless of comparing to other institutions.
Well since we’re asking for full-time pay with part-time work, sign me up! And free tuition and childcare? Wow, I wish. Even with tuition reimbursement for staff, it’s capped at $5k per year.
These GSI aren’t even faculty and are asking for BETTER benefits than Faculty and Staff receive. That’s nuts.
There are graduates that do fall into a category of possibly earning more. These are the PhD students working on grants. The work they do for those grants should be compensated fairly. No, they shouldn’t earn as much as their mentors but this is the area that seems to be needing review. These earnings shouldn’t be sought through the GSI work. This should be a separate category for earning. — I understand I don’t fully know all the details surrounding this but from what I do know, raising the salaries of the GSI’s is then raising salaries for graduates who don’t fall into the same category as PhD students working on grants and doing research. Those not falling into this category are being paid more than a fair wage.
Very shameful behavior on the part of my university. President Ono should really be embarrassed by this misinformation campaign and legal strikebreaking.
Reality check please. Good faith requires reasonable requests and the willingness to adjust demands by both parties. Why should someone working 20 hours a week, with less than 5 years of experience, be paid the same or more annually than those of us that work 40 hours a week and have been here for over 10, 20, and in my case 30 year? GEO claims they get less than others. Well not less than many others working here. As for other institutions, show us the proof, name names. They haven’t, so I am doubting their claims. Take a hard look at the wage increases for the RN contract just finished. The GEO deserves nothing better than that. Remember, those of us who aren’t under a union will be lucky to get the raises offered in the GEO contract.
Have you considered that the university is also not compensating you fairly? Directing your anger at GEO works against your own interests as an employee. Everyone deserves to be fairly compensated. You should be making well over $24/h with 30 years of full-time service with weekend obligations.
Another issue that has been raised by GEO is that they are only paid for 50% employment but they do a lot of work outside of that allocated time that should be considered paid work, hence outside employment is generally an unreasonable expectation. Graduate students should be able to sustain themselves on a living wage for Ann Arbor without having to take on multiple jobs, which would impede on their educational experience.
If you are a staff member and feel the university is unfairly compensating you, or have complaints about your job that are not being addressed, consider joining the University Staff United organizing effort! https://universitystaffunited.org/