Updated May 18, 2023
Read session-by-session updates from the bargaining table »
The Graduate Employees’ Organization, the labor union representing about 2,300 part-time employees who work as graduate student instructors (GSIs) and graduate student staff assistants (GSSAs) across the University of Michigan’s three campuses, took action to strike starting March 29.
The action violates state law and the union’s current contract with the university which contains a clear “no-strike clause” in Article III. Most GSIs and GSSAs are appointed to work part-time at 16-20 hours per week for two-thirds of the year.
The university strongly believes the best place to resolve differences is at the bargaining table.
The university recognizes the essential contributions of GSIs and GSSAs to our academic community and remains committed to bargaining in good faith with GEO.
Beyond any legal considerations is an ethical one: if collective bargaining is to retain its value, all parties must honor the terms of the contract they signed.
A state administrative law judge, who ruled April 17 that GEO committed an unfair labor practice by walking off the job agreed, writing in his decision “To allow one party to renege on a lawful agreement would negate the stability and reliability that is the goal of good faith bargaining. It is central to the stability of labor relations that agreements be enforced, for if they can be unilaterally revoked, the stability and possibility of further good faith bargaining is undermined.”
The university urges GEO to reconsider its breach of the agreement we reached through good faith collective bargaining.
The university’s focus remains on continuing instruction for its students and achieving an agreement with GEO through the negotiation process.
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 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.
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.
The Facts on Compensation
Since offering a compensation proposal in November 2022 that would give members a 60% raise in the first year of the contract alone, GEO’s counteroffers have merely repeated its original salary demands. Meanwhile, U-M has presented GEO with four counteroffers, each larger than the last.
Instead of working toward compromise, GEO has refused to move from its insistence on a 60% raise – a compensation demand that is vastly out of step with wage increases for all other employee groups – and instead opted to violate its own contract and walk off the job.
- The $18.67 hourly wage for Ann Arbor is the rate of pay that an individual with no children who is working full-time must earn to support themselves, according to the MIT Living Wage Calculator.
- Current wages and wage proposals presented on this bar graph do not include other benefits, such as tuition waivers of up to $12,947 per semester for in-state students and $26,062 per semester for out-of-state students, childcare subsidies that start at $3,043 for one child per semester, and comprehensive health insurance with no monthly premiums. Most GSIs and GSSAs are appointed to work part-time at 16-20 hours per week for two-thirds of the year.
- The wages offered by the university are part of the third counteroffer on compensation presented to GEO since the union shared their initial proposal.
- GEO’s proposed wage increases for the second and third years of its contract are tied to inflation. Our estimated wages use the projected Detroit CPI.
Key points to know at this time
- The strike violates Michigan law and the current contract in place between the university and GEO which is set to expire May 3.
- A state administrative law judge ruled April 17 that GEO committed an unfair labor practice by violating the no-strike clause in its current contract and walking off the job.
- The university is committed to continuing classes as scheduled with schools and colleges making arrangements at the unit level.
- Negotiations began on Nov. 17, 2022, and the U-M bargaining team has offered to meet as many days as possible to resolve the negotiations and reach an agreement.
- Negotiators have made progress on some issues, however the union has failed to move on most of its key demands even as GEO continues to attempt to negotiate issues that are outside of the scope of this contract.
- Most, but not all, GSIs are appointed at 50% effort, which is the equivalent of 16-20 hours of work per week.
- The current GEO contract — effective until May 3 — includes a tuition waiver on average of $12,947 per semester for in-state students and $26,062 per semester for out-of-state students and comprehensive health insurance with no monthly premiums – a value of $4,092 a year for just the employee and up to $11,292 a year for the employee, an adult dependent and children.
- Compensation remains the most significant point of contention, with U-M offering for the part-time appointments an 11.5% raise over the next three years — 5%, 3.5%, 3% — to increase wages to $38-$39 per hour by year three. GEO is seeking a 60% wage increase to approximately $53-54 per hour in the first year of its contract, and additional increases tied to inflation in the second and third years.
The university has taken the following steps in response to the strike to ensure it can 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. The matter will now go before the entire Michigan Employment Relations Commission at a later date for a final decision.
- 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.
- 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.
- FAQ setting the record straight on GEO’s claims about contract bargaining
- Bargaining session updates
- Decision and Recommended Order of Administrative Law Judge on Summary Disposition (April 17)
- Unfair Labor Practice Charge (March 29)
- Washtenaw County Circuit Court Complaint (March 30)
- Injunction filing (March 30)
- Facts about GEO
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
Katherine E. White
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)