GEO contract and strike settlement

Updated Sept. 20, 2023

Leaders of the Graduate Employees’ Organization announced Aug. 25 that union members had overwhelmingly approved a new three-year contract with the University of Michigan. The new contract, which will run through May 1, 2026, was ratified by 97% of GEO members voting, according to the union.

The contract includes annual salary increases, a $1,000 bonus and increased benefits, along with processes to further discuss and deal with various other issues that graduate employees wish to bring before the university administration.  

Approval comes nine months after contract negotiations began and five months after GEO went on strike. GEO represents about 2,300 part-time graduate student instructors and graduate student staff assistants. Classes began for the fall term Aug. 28.

Planning for Fall 2023

In an Aug. 7 email message to graduate student instructors and graduate student staff assistants, university officials specified that all instructors were expected to fulfill their instructional responsibilities, which included, but were not limited to, creating a syllabus and Canvas site for every course, teaching scheduled classes, grading student work and submitting grades on time.

Those who participate in a strike would be subject to replacement for the entire semester. Graduate employees engaged in a work stoppage also would “likely be removed from the system as a course instructor and will lose access to the Canvas site(s) for the course.”

The guidelines, developed and endorsed in coordination with campus deans, were intended to “support the continuity of instruction in the event of a work stoppage,” according to U-M officials.

The fact-finding process

The university submitted a petition to the state May 17 to initiate the fact-finding process in an effort to resolve the ongoing contractual dispute.The petition filed with the Michigan Employment Relations Commission requested 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.

The commission appointed a fact finder, Mark Glazer, to conduct hearings relating to all of the facts in dispute. The hearings, conducted publicly over Zoom on July 21, allowed both parties to present facts and witnesses in support of their positions.

Higher Learning Commission review

The Higher Learning Commission, an independent body that accredits U-M, determined a complaint made regarding grading at the end of the 2023 winter term was “not indicative of substantive noncompliance” and warranted no further review.

The decision came two months after the HLC announced it was conducting an “assurance review” of the university after it received a complaint on May 30. GEO claimed in their public communications to have filed the complaint.

The complaint alleged U-M had submitted inaccurate end-of-term grades for students in class sections left without an instructor when many GEO members walked off the job March 29 amid an ongoing contract dispute.

University actions

The university took the following steps in response to the strike to ensure it could continue to meet its educational mission:

  • Filed an unfair labor practice charge on March 29 with the Michigan Employment Relations Commission that asked the state agency to find GEO in violation of the Michigan Public Employment Relations Act and order the union to stop the illegal strike. An administrative law judge has since ruled in the university’s favor, agreeing that the union violated its contract. U-M and GEO reached an agreement on June 7 to settle this unfair labor practice complaint and three others filed by the union. As part of the settlement, the union agreed that the administrative law judge’s prior decision supporting the university’s claim will stand.
  • Filed a complaint in Washtenaw County Circuit Court on 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. U-M agreed to drop this complaint as part of the June 7 settlement regarding unfair labor practices. The settlement allows U-M to refile the lawsuit seeking damages at any time.
  • Requested an injunction on March 30 ordering the striking workers back to work because the strike is illegal under Michigan law. The court did not approve this request.
  • Stopped the deduction of union dues.
  • Informed the union that the university will withhold the pay of any GSIs/GSSAs who do not work during the strike.

Additional resources

April 21, 2023

Thursday evening, unruly GEO protesters came dangerously close to violence.

They stormed a local Ann Arbor restaurant where President Santa J. Ono was meeting students for dinner.

This important engagement was immediately derailed as protesters banged on the windows of the restaurant and then blocked a U-M Police vehicle from taking the president to safety, while pounding on the vehicle. Two offenders were detained.

This type of threatening behavior is wholly unacceptable.

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.

While thousands of their fellow U-M students are dedicating themselves to closing out the academic year, GEO protesters have abandoned their classroom and resorted to name calling, banging on restaurant windows and hosting dance parties.

Earlier in the day Thursday, fire alarms were pulled in two campus classroom buildings around the same time, further disrupting the educational progress of undergraduate students taking their final exams. U-M Police are working to identify the perpetrators of these crimes.

This conduct that endangers safety and is designed to intimidate must stop.

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.

Even today, after 27 sessions of contract talks and three weeks of a strike, GEO has yet to offer any counteroffer to its unrealistic demand of a 60% salary increase in the first year of a new contract.

GEO members must take their role in the campus community seriously.

Members of the U-M Board of Regents:

Jordan B. Acker

Michael J. Behm

Mark J. Bernstein

Paul W. Brown

Sarah Hubbard

Denise Ilitch

Ron Weiser

Katherine E. White

University updates

Record: GEO members ratify new three-year contract with U-M (Aug. 25)
Record: GEO votes to sign tentative agreement; starts ratification process (Aug. 22)
Record: U-M presents last, best and final offer to GEO (Aug. 20)
Record: Accreditor finds no ‘substantive noncompliance’ in U-M winter grading (Aug. 8)
Provost email to faculty: Update on GEO negotiations (Aug. 8)
Provost email to GSIs and GSSAs: Fall expectations (Aug. 7)
Record: U-M leaders outline GSI, GSSA expectations for fall (Aug. 7)
Record: Contract proposal expires after GEO doesn’t meet deadline (Aug. 4)
Record: U-M, GEO present outstanding contract issues to fact finder (July 22)
Record: University, GEO settle unfair labor practice complaints (June 8)
Provost remarks to Board of Regents: Update on negotiations (May 18)
Provost email to faculty: Update on grading (May 17)
Record: University requests state fact finder in GEO contract dispute (May 17)
Record: University presents GEO with comprehensive contract offer (May 15)
Record: Some grades still missing, but ‘overwhelming majority’ turned in (May 9)
Record: Court order formalizes agreement for GEO to submit grades (April 22)
Record: U-M outlines its position on several topics in GEO talks (April 22)
Record: Administrative law judge rules GEO strike violates contract (April 17)
Record: Court denies injunction to halt strike by graduate workers (April 11)
Record: U-M to offer evidence of strike’s harm at court hearing (April 5)
Record: GEO seeks to make U-M bargain over certain topics (April 4)
Record: U-M seeks actions by court, labor board against striking GEO (March 30)
Provost message to U-M community regarding 3/29 GEO Strike (March 29)
Record: University outlines operational plans during GEO strike (March 29)
Provost email to students regarding ongoing labor negotiations at U-M (March 25)
President and Provost message to U-M community update on ongoing labor negotiations at U-M (March 24)
Record: U-M leaders update community on possible GEO strike action (March 24)
Record: U-M seeking state mediator for GEO negotiations (Dec. 3)