Sept. 10, 2020
The University of Michigan and the Graduate Employees’ Organization have been engaged in weekly discussions on the impacts of COVID to GSI appointments since March 16, 2020, in an effort to address concerns GEO had about the impacts of COVID-19 on GSI and GSSA appointments.
Upon learning last Wednesday that GEO intended to hold a strike vote on a variety of issues, the parties met to discuss outstanding issues several times over the weekend to seek resolution and to provide additional information to GEO on its concerns.
As a result of the various discussions with GEO over the past week, and with endorsement of these terms by GEO leadership, the University proposed the following terms to GEO on Wednesday evening in order to end the strike. Some of these agreements were reached through bargaining and others through discussion as some are not bargaining issues. We learned late Wednesday night that GEO rejected the proposal.
International student issues:
Even though GSIs and GSSAs do not, under their contract, pay this fee, GEO has demanded that the $500 International Student fee be eliminated. GEO also has raised concerns about delays in handling visa questions.
University and International Center leadership met directly with GEO leadership last Friday to hear the concerns of its members and answer questions about the services.
Our proposal yesterday included a commitment that the International Center will add to its staff so it can enhance its support for international students, including graduate students who are a large part of the caseload of the center. This additional support will assist in case management and communication, among other issues, given the complexity of issues faced by international students in the current environment.
GEO demanded that the student Child Care Subsidy program administered by the Office of Financial Aid, temporarily remove the licensed child care requirement of the subsidy and expand the age limit of the subsidy.
The University agreed in its proposal to institute the following temporary program to expand the University’s 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 at 67% of the rate of funding for licensed child care under the regular program.
- In support of the expansion of the child care subsidy, the university committed an additional $300,000 to fund unlicensed child care for all students for the two terms. This is in addition to the current child care subsidy available to all students for licensed child care.
GEO demanded that the University provide more information and greater transparency on the University’s testing policy, contact tracing, and campus safety.
Over the weekend, University leadership and GEO met with public health experts to explain further the University’s testing program. The University then affirmed in its proposal yesterday that it will be, at a minimum, taking the following steps regarding communication of data to the broader University community:
- We will describe in detail the methodology of our surveillance testing program, including how we plan to diminish the bias introduced by an opt-in approach. This will be posted on the Campus Blueprint website.
- We will make public our surveillance testing capacity weekly, as well as the actual number of tests performed, number of positive tests and the positivity rate. We will try to post the latter info as it becomes available with the goal of posting data each weekday.
- We do not have a model that predicts infection rates with sufficient reliability and cannot commit to providing these data as we are 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 SPH who are working on modeling will be free to publish or present their work when they think it is ready.
- We will explain on the Campus Blueprint website or other appropriate website the set of metrics we are tracking and the approach that will be used to determine whether to pull back from in-person instruction. See additional detail here.
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, which will test as many as 3,000 community members each week by the end of September, 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.
Other health and safety concerns for those involved in in-person teaching:
GEO has demanded that every GSI be given the universal option to teach remotely at any point during the semester.
The University proposed a formalized mechanism for GSIs and GSSAs to bring forward, either through their individual academic unit or through academic human resources, health and safety concerns in the classroom as they might arise throughout the term. The agreement allowed for 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 employees concerns. The agreement also provided an expedite grievance meeting in order to reach resolution as quickly as possible.
The University also provided clarification and guidance mask enforcement in the classroom, including clarifying the right of all instructional faculty to cancel class in the event a student refuses to wear a mask 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 has demanded 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.
We understand and share the concerns of graduate students about the impacts of COVID on their academic progress. As these issues involve more than just GSIs and GSSAs and pertain to the academic status of graduate students, they will be and are being addressed by the Rackham Graduate School and the individual schools and colleges.
Nevertheless, in the interests of seeking resolution to the concerns, GEO, representatives from the Provost’s Office and Rackham Dean Michael Solomon met over the Labor Day weekend so GEO could provide their concerns to Dean Solomon. Dean Solomon heard the concerns, understands the issues and is working to address them.
Rackham announced in a Sept. 4 email to graduate students that it will be addressing this issue in a town hall hosted by Dean Solomon on Monday, Sept.14.
GEO demanded access to a disarmed and demilitarized workplace, where lethal weapons are prohibited, our 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 that this is an important issue for the broader university community, and thus should and will be part of a broader discussion to include multiple stakeholders. These also are issues that society at large is facing as we grapple with not only a pandemic, but also continuing racial discrimination and great disparities in our society. The University has addressed and will continue to address these issues in multiple venues with the many stakeholders. We acknowledge that we’re unable to bargain with one employee group for matters that affect the entire campus community and other people’s employment terms.
The University agreed it would withdraw the unfair labor practice charge filed against GEO and not discipline or penalize employees who engaged in the strike should the parties reach agreement and the strike be ended.