University requests state fact finder in GEO contract dispute


The University of Michigan has submitted a petition to the state to initiate the fact-finding process in an effort to resolve its ongoing contractual dispute with the Graduate Employees’ Organization.

The petition, filed May 17 with the Michigan Employment Relations Commission, requests that the commission appoint a neutral fact finder to issue a non-binding recommendation for settling the contract.

Because strikes are illegal in the public sector, fact finding is the final impasse resolution procedure available to public-sector contract disputes once bargaining and mediation have failed to result in a final agreement, according to MERC.

“This is just the next step in the process given the union’s unwillingness to compromise on issues such as compensation, unwillingness to drop issues from bargaining that are not relevant to the contract, and unwillingness to meet for additional bargaining sessions,” said Sascha Matish, associate vice provost and senior director of academic human resources, adding that GEO has committed to only one additional bargaining session throughout the rest of May and has yet to make any commitment for bargaining in June.

“Our decision to file for fact finding is the typical next step when labor negotiations are not progressing and is intended to help reach resolution in time for the fall term,” Matish said.

GEO represents nearly 2,300 graduate student instructors and graduate student staff assistants. The union’s contract with the university expired May 3.

Evelyn Smith, a Ph.D. candidate in business and economics and GEO’s lead negotiator, said the union believes “fact finding is premature at this juncture, as both parties are still making movement on key issues. However, we are prepared to participate fully in this process and are confident that MERC will find that the facts support our positions.

“Our team substantiates each of our proposals with evidence. Our proposal for a living wage is rooted in peer comparisons and a thorough assessment of local economic conditions.”

The university’s petition for fact finding comes six months after bargaining began and five days after its negotiating team provided GEO with a comprehensive package in response to all outstanding issues.

The package, delivered May 12, included an increased compensation offer, as well as offers for all other articles and memoranda of understanding left unsettled. It also included a notice to the union that without “substantial movement” from GEO on most outstanding issues by the May 16 bargaining session, the university would file the fact-finding petition.

The GEO bargaining team used the May 16 bargaining session to caucus and did not reach out with counteroffers on any contract issues, according to U-M officials.

“The university provided GEO with an 80-page package proposal and threatened to move to fact finding if we did not provide them with what they considered to be an adequate response within one business day. This is not bargaining in good faith,” Smith said.

She said GEO spent the May 16 session considering the outstanding proposals with its members and evaluating potential areas of agreement.

“We are a democratic union, and member involvement in each step of this process is important to us. It would be a waste of time to pass something across the table that was rushed and did not reflect an offer our members would accept,” Smith said.

The two sides have made limited progress in the six months since collective bargaining began last November.

The biggest sticking point has been compensation, with the union demanding a 60% pay raise in the first year of its three-year contract. GEO members, who currently earn about $35 per hour, would earn about $55 per hour next year under the GEO proposal.

The university’s latest pay proposal — the fourth since bargaining began — would provide GEO members on the Ann Arbor campus 12.5% in total raises over the next three years — 5%, 4% and 3.5%, respectively. GEO members on the Dearborn and Flint campuses would receive 6.75% in total raises over the same period.

With more than a month before their contract was set to expire, GEO members walked off the job in late March and remained on strike through the remainder of the winter term. The move violated the contract’s no-strike clause and delayed final course grades for thousands of students.

University officials said they hope the fact-finding process will help move both parties toward a finalized contract.

According to the Michigan Employment Relations Commission, once the commission receives a petition, it will appoint a fact finder to conduct a hearing relating to all of the facts in dispute. The hearing is public, unless otherwise directed by the fact finder, and allows both parties to present facts and witnesses in support of their positions.

Ultimately, the fact finder issues written recommendations on the contract provisions in dispute. The process can take several months.

According to MERC, the value of fact finding is that the parties receive an objective and professional evaluation of their bargaining positions. While the recommendations are non-binding, parties often return to negotiations after fact finding and are frequently able to resolve differences.

Winter term grade submissions continue

As of May 17, more than 95% of winter term grades had been submitted, according to the Office of the Registrar. The large majority of classes still outstanding are independent study and study-abroad courses that customarily arrive later than usual.

In a May 17 email message to faculty on the Ann Arbor campus, Provost Laurie McCauley reiterated the need to provide final grades to students and acknowledged the “inherent discomfort” created when a faculty member or department chair must enter a final grade for an instructor of record “who is not available to do so.”

“It is not the situation any of us would like to be in, and I know that many in our academic community have especially strong feelings about this,” McCauley said. “I understand those valid concerns, and this is not easy for any of us. However, leaving students without grades indefinitely for a course they have completed is unconscionable. It affects their financial aid, applications for work and graduate school, enrollment in spring and summer classes, and other career plans. The University of Michigan has a duty to help those students by finalizing their grades.”

McCauley said university leaders have issued no blanket mandate regarding how schools, colleges or departments choose to resolve missing grades, but are asking unit leaders to do all they can to ensure that grades are as accurate as possible.



  1. Silke-Maria Weineck
    on May 18, 2023 at 6:55 am

    It is upsetting and dishonest that the Record keeps repeating a meaningless hourly wage figure to spin its position. As everybody knows, an hourly wage on a contract that doesn’t allow you to work more than 20 salaried hours a week is a nonsense number. It is equally dishonest not to mention that Rackham is paying most PhD students in Ann Arbor 36K/year, making the vapors over “60% pay increase” just silly. We are a university. We should tell the truth even in the midst of union busting, and this PR makes me ashamed.

  2. Melissa Asher
    on May 18, 2023 at 8:15 am

    GEO members are barred from taking second jobs and make something like $25k a year, correct? Please at least say that in addition to the “hourly wage” that you got by dividing $25k by their teaching hours.

  3. Jessyca Hannah
    on May 18, 2023 at 8:40 am

    These comments about salary are ridiculous. Everyone should know that your salary is based on your appointment, not just some magical number pulled out of thin air. These GSI’s know what they are being paid when they take the role. That would essentially be like me taking a part-time job with a yearly salary of $60k but demanding I make $120k to make up the difference of it not being full-time.

    • Sarah Katz
      on May 18, 2023 at 10:26 am

      I think this situation is a bit different from the one you describe because grad students are not allowed to hold other employment when they are a GSI. So we are only paid for “part time” work despite doing a lot of unpaid labor as researchers and being barred from taking on other employment.

      And, yes, we do know what we are being paid when we accept a GSI position (that doesn’t mean most grads are in a position to decline a GSI offer if the alternative is not getting paid at all). I think our recently expired contract didn’t really work for a lot of people in terms of allowing them to live modestly in Ann Arbor. So that’s the cool thing about contract negotiation and unionization…laborers have agency in their employment! We can identify known issues with our contract and try to improve them so that all grad students can succeed! Pretty awesome in my opinion! 😀

    • Melissa Asher
      on May 18, 2023 at 12:38 pm

      It would be a bit more like you taking a job which requires 40+ hours of work including mandatory “training,” and then getting paid part time for only the work part. Note also that in your salary example the $60k would be enough for one person to live quite comfortably–the difference between $24k and $40k is way more important than between $60k and $120k there.

  4. Audrey Rose Gutierrez
    on May 18, 2023 at 10:49 am

    The university loves to weaponize this fictitious “part-time employment” as an explanation of why GSI’s currently only make $24k/year, but GSI’s also do research. Why do graduate employees on GSRA funding make $36k/year even though they are ostensibly working 20 hours/week as well?

    The answer is that the university has chosen to value education less than research, and they are penalizing employees for reduced research time. Call it what it is!

  5. Aladdin Ko
    on May 18, 2023 at 3:49 pm

    I’d be interested if any department at UM will start giving out offer letters based on HR’s hourly rate. Will they even agree with the list of ‘comparator schools’ HR uses?

  6. Max Lahn
    on May 19, 2023 at 10:44 am

    Graduate students get paid for less than half of the work we do, which is why GEO’s wage demand you included for shock value would only amount to paying graduate students ~$38k per year, which is what it takes to live in Ann Arbor according to the MIT Living Wage Calculator. This is vitally important context, which has been well communicated by GEO leadership, membership, and representatives, and by labor allies at all levels — the decision to mislead your readership by not including it is shameful and reflects poorly on those involved.

    • Matthew Murphy
      on May 21, 2023 at 12:48 pm

      The other “half” of your work is compensated via tuition waivers. You need to be at 23.7% FTE for a full waiver, much lower than at other institutions.

  7. Michael Drake
    on May 19, 2023 at 10:46 am

    Honestly it’s just super disheartening and disappointing to have the University to twist the facts around the GEO contract and strike. I’m not entirely sure what their aim is here, since it seems pretty clear what their doing. Who are they trying to convince? They’re doing a good job showing they’re hostile to having good working conditions. If their aim was to turn people off from working here, they’re doing a good job. It doesn’t make me proud to work here. From my perspective, a healthy and strong business (and the U is absolutely a business) should prioritize the health and well being of its workers. Happy employees will do much better work, work for you longer, and have stronger teams. You want to be a place where you can attract top talent, where people are scrambling to work for you because of the good environment you foster. What they’re doing (clearly stalling for time so they can set the terms for the next contract) seems extremely short sighted, and will damage the University in the long run.

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