The University of Michigan will have the opportunity to present its case in Washtenaw County Circuit Court that the ongoing Graduate Employees’ Organization strike has caused “irreparable harm” to the institution.
In an April 4 ruling, Circuit Judge Carol Kuhnke ordered an evidentiary hearing to begin at 5 p.m. April 10.
Kuhnke declined to issue an emergency temporary restraining order that would have immediately halted the strike among the union’s nearly 2,300 graduate student instructors and graduate student staff assistants.
University spokesperson Rick Fitzgerald said the university remains hopeful that the two parties will continue to make progress at the bargaining table but will be prepared to share evidence in court next week.
“The ongoing strike violates the law, defies the terms of the current contract and has created unnecessary disruption for our students,” Fitzgerald said. “Our top priority continues to be carrying out the critical educational mission of this university.”
U-M filed its complaint in circuit court March 30 alleging breach of contract by the union for striking despite its agreement not to do so while the current contract is in effect. GEO went on strike March 29, about four weeks before its contract with U-M is set to expire May 1.
U-M is seeking an injunction ordering the striking workers to return to work.
“At issue today was whether graduate workers are causing irreparable harm to the university. The outcome, however, shows that university did not have sufficient evidence to warrant a temporary restraining order, and that a restraining order was unjustified,” GEO President Jared Eno said.
“The university can bring us back to work whenever it wants by providing serious counteroffers. I want to be very clear. This lawsuit seeks to weaponize the court system against working families, and today the court said no. The university cannot try to break our organizing in this way.”
In a separate action, U-M filed an unfair labor practice charge with the Michigan Employment Relations Commission on March 29 asking the agency to find GEO in violation of the Michigan Public Employment Relations Act and order the union to halt the strike.
GEO also petitioned the state agency April 3 to direct the university to bargain with the union on certain subjects that the university has argued are outside the scope of the contract and to “cease imposing preconditions to bargaining.” The two parties have often been at odds over the logistics of negotiating.
The union’s decision to strike is based on several 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 are appointed at 16-20 hours per week.
The two parties are scheduled to meet for bargaining sessions from noon-2 p.m. April 5 and April 6, and from 9 a.m.-5 p.m. April 7.