Sept. 22, 2020
Members of the Graduate Employees’ Organization voted Sept. 16 to end their strike and GEO members returned to work Sept. 17. The information outlined here provides a summary of the steps that led to an end of the strike and the proposal the university made to GEO, which was approved by a vote of 1,074-239, with 66 abstentions.
The university and GEO engaged in weekly discussions on the impacts of COVID-19 to GSI appointments starting in March, in an effort to address GEO concerns. Upon learning Sept. 3 that GEO intended to have a strike vote on a variety of issues, the parties met over the Labor Day weekend to discuss outstanding issues and to seek resolution and to provide additional information to GEO on its concerns.
GEO went on strike Sept. 8. The university presented a settlement proposal endorsed by the GEO leadership Sept. 9 that was rejected by GEO membership. After several subsequent discussions between the parties, GEO presented a proposal to the university Sept. 15. On Sept. 16, the university presented a counter proposal to GEO. By an overwhelming margin, GEO voted to end the strike. Some of these agreements were reached through bargaining and others through discussion, as some are not bargaining issues.
The parties worked deliberately and constructively for days to achieve a proposed agreement that would meet the interests of GEO’s constituency groups. The representatives had open communication lines at all times, met at multiple times, including late into the evenings, in their problem-solving efforts and good-faith bargaining. The university and its representatives highly value the relationship they have established through collaboration and partnership with GEO. The university will continue to work with GEO’s representatives
The university committed in the settlement of the strike that it would not enact any reprisals for graduate student instructors, graduate student assistants, or other student employees as a result of their participation in or support for the strike. The university’s legal action sought only that GEO members return to their GSI or GSRA duties. It did not seek money damages from individual GEO members. In accordance with the university’s agreement with GEO, the university is withdrawing its unfair labor practice charge and its request for an injunction. The terms of the agreement are outlined below:
International student issues:
GEO proposed that the university enhance resources available to international students.
U-M committed that the International Center will hire an additional person whose duties will include advising, case management and outreach and communication to graduate students.
GEO proposed that the student child care subsidy program administered by the Office of Financial Aid, temporarily remove the licensed child care requirement of the subsidy, expand the age limit of the subsidy and increase the amount for unlicensed care to $500,000.
The university agreed to institute a temporary program to expand the existing student child care subsidy program to address the impacts of the pandemic:
- Extend the policy to include an option for funding unlicensed child care for all students.
- Increase the eligible age limit to include children without special needs up to 15, in the case of unlicensed child care. (The existing policy covers children with special needs who are under the age of 19.)
- Provide a total of $500,000 of additional funding for unlicensed child care.
Testing and modeling:
GEO proposed that the university provide more information and greater transparency on the university’s testing policy, contact tracing, and campus safety.
The university affirmed that it will be taking the following steps regarding communication of data to the broader university community:
- The university will describe in detail the methodology of the surveillance testing program, including how to diminish the bias introduced by an opt-in approach. This will be posted on the Campus Blueprint website.
- The university will make public surveillance testing capacity weekly, as well as the actual number of tests performed, number of positive tests and the positivity rate. The university will try to post the latter information as it becomes available with the goal of posting data each week day.
- The university does not have a model that predicts infection rates with sufficient reliability and cannot commit to providing these data as it is uncertain when or if it will become available. If reliable data do become available they will be communicated to the broader university community. Faculty members in the School of Public Health who are working on modeling will be free to publish or present their work when they think it is ready.
- The university will explain on the Campus Blueprint website or other appropriate website the set of metrics being tracked and the approach that will be used to determine whether to pull back from in-person instruction. See additional detail here: https://campusblueprint.umich.edu/faqs#what-are-the-triggers-for-the-university-to-change-its-plans-for-fall-header
The university is providing a multi-layered approach to testing designed by some of the state’s top public health experts. The university also has a dashboard, updated daily, that provides transparency on the testing all across the Ann Arbor Campus. The Community Sampling and Tracking program is the latest addition to the university’s multi-tiered testing and monitoring strategy, which includes:
- Baseline testing of nearly 6,000 students before they moved into Michigan Housing, as well as testing of residents of affiliated fraternity or sorority facilities.
- Symptomatic testing of students through University Health Service and of faculty and staff through Occupational Health Services.
- Exposure testing for close contacts identified though case investigation, contact tracing or workplace exposure investigations.
- Antibody testing for Michigan Medicine faculty and staff involved in patient care.
- Daily symptom tracking through the ResponsiBLUE health screening tool.
Read additional details here: https://campusblueprint.umich.edu/monitoring-testing
Remote work option:
GEO proposed that any GSI working in person who brings forward a health and safety concern be given the option to work remotely permanently if they do not agree with the resolution proposed by the university.
GEO and university representatives collaborated to design a procedure for GSIs and GSSAs to promptly address health and safety concerns in the classroom as they might arise throughout the term. The agreement enables GSIs and GSSAs to request a temporary switch to remote instruction should the issue not be immediately resolved and while the parties further evaluated and addressed the employee’s concerns. The agreement also provides a three-member panel to render a final decision.as quickly as possible if the parties can’t reach agreement.
Face coverings and COVID supplies:
GEO proposed improved communication about GSIs mechanism for enforcing face covering compliance in the classrooms and availability of COVID-19 supplies.
The university clarified guidance regarding face covering enforcement in the classroom, including the right of all instructors to cancel class in the event a student refuses to wear a face covering after being asked. The university reiterated its commitment to appropriate COVID-19 supplies needed in the classroom, by agreeing to send additional communications in the units on how to access these supplies.
Additional time to degree:
GEO proposed that every graduate student be granted an additional year of time to complete their degree, as well as an additional year of graduate student funding.
Understanding and sharing the concerns of graduate students about the impacts of COVID on their academic progress, and recognizing these issues involve more than just GSIs and GSSAs and pertain to the academic status of graduate students, Rackham Graduate School will recommend that each program create guidelines and procedures by which it will offer an additional term or terms of stipend, tuition, and benefits to doctoral students whose degree progress was disrupted by the COVID-19 pandemic and whose funding committed by offer letter has been exhausted. Rackham further recommends that the decision to extend additional terms of funding will be the collaborative decision of the faculty, student, and doctoral program.
Also, Rackham will update its current Academic Dispute Resolution Policy to resolve cases in which faculty, student, and program do not agree on the need for extended funding due to the COVID-19 pandemic.
Policing as a public health issue:
GEO proposed access to a disarmed and demilitarized workplace, where lethal weapons are prohibited, security services do not receive military funding, there is transparency around the use of surveillance technology, there is a standard of force for campus police, and no one faces retaliation for being unable to work due to police presence.
The university acknowledges and embraces that policing matters are important issues for the broader university community and will be part of a broader discussion to include multiple stakeholders. To those ends:
- The university committed to charging a representative Task Force on Policing at U-M. Working inclusively with the many diverse members of our community, including the Students of Color Liberation Front and GEO, the university commits to a process that is fully transparent and advances U-M DPSS as a national model for public safety on a university campus. The task force will evaluate best practices for continuing to improve DPSS information transparency. The task force will issue a report and recommendations.
- The Vice President of Student Life is in discussion with various constituency groups, including the Students of Color Liberation Front, (including a meeting Sept. 16) with Student Life Leadership to get feedback necessary to revise the Ambassador Program (announced Sept. 18). The program served a key purpose during the first few weeks of the semester and we anticipate significant changes as the needs and timing of the semester have changed.