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University of Michigan graduate students accept school’s latest offer, end strike

GEO members are returning to work

Members of GEO and other University of Michigan students protested and marched in Ann Arbor, Michigan on Friday, Sept. 11.
Members of GEO and other University of Michigan students protested and marched in Ann Arbor, Michigan on Friday, Sept. 11. (Sahil Kumar)

ANN ARBOR, Mich. – Members of the Graduate Employee’s Organization (GEO) voted Wednesday to accept the University of Michigan’s latest offer regarding issues of mutual concern and end their strike.

The university and GEO union announced the strike end Thursday morning.

“GEO said its members would return to their duties beginning this morning,” reads a statement from the university. “The vote was 1,074-239, with 66 abstentions, and took place during a general membership meeting of the union.”

Around 2,100 members of the GEO had been on strike for over a week, calling on the University of Michigan’s leadership to ensure better protections from COVID-19 on campus. The group’s demands also included the defunding and disarming of U-M’s Division of Public Safety and Security, a universal remote work option, subsidies for child care and for the school to cut ties with Ann Arbor Police Department.

“The revised proposal from the university that was considered Wednesday created a stronger process to address health and safety concerns for GEO members working on campus and enabled GSIs and GSSAs to appeal any decision requiring them to work on campus. The university also improved a proposal to make temporary enhancements to student child care subsidies. GEO also had shared concerns about policing on campus and other matters that fall outside the parameters of the GEO contract,” reads a statement from the university.

GEO members rejected the university’s initial offer last week, stating that it did not meet their demands. The proposal was rejected by an “overwhelming majority” of members during an online meeting.

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On Wednesday, GEO held a press conference on the Diag reiterating its coronavirus protection and anti-policing demands. Speakers spoke on their own experiences and reasons to support the strike.

On Monday, University of Michigan President Mark Schlissel revealed through a video message that the school asked the courts to intervene with the ongoing graduate student instructors strike.

“Following the announcement that GEO will continue to strike and not teach for at least five more days, I made the very difficult decision to seek help from the courts so we can resume all of our remote and in person classes,” Schlissel said in the video message.

The strike has garnered local and national media attention and has received support from community members and lawmakers around the country. Other University of Michigan student groups including resident advisors, Students Demand Representation and dining hall employees have protested in solidarity with the graduate employee organization.

Some student residence hall staff went on strike alongside GEO on Tuesday, Sept. 8, demanding more coronavirus protections from the university. That strike is still on-going, according to the U-M ResStaff Twitter account.

Here is the full statement from GEO on ending the strike:

Tonight, Graduate Employees' Organization 3550 (GEO) members at the University of Michigan voted to accept the University’s second offer and end our historic, abolitionist strike for a safe and just campus amid a global pandemic. At our largest general membership meeting to date, 1,074 GEO members voted to accept the university’s offer, 239 members voted to reject, and 66 abstained.

Our strike is now over. GEO members and supporters now return to our regular work duties.

Thousands of members and allies came out in force day after day on the virtual and in-person picket lines to show that graduate students and their allies were prepared to fight for this community. By withholding our labor, building coalitions, and making our power impossible to ignore, we forced the university to give us an offer with substantive progress toward a safe and just campus.

In the face of our power, the University of Michigan decided to lean on a nearly hundred year old union-busting law to sue their own graduate students. President Mark Schlissel belittled our months of persistent negotiation and organizing as “screaming” and tried to paint us as unreasonable, all while COVID-19 outbreak after outbreak on campus proved our fears for our community’s safety all too accurate. The University poured their immense resources into legal fees instead of simply protecting our community by implementing reasonable steps toward a safe and just pandemic response for all.

But in the face of the University’s threats and bullying, our member power still won critical progress. We won workable pandemic childcare options; substantive support for international graduate students; transparent COVID-19 testing protocols; and incremental but real movement on our policing demands, including a commitment to a revision of the Michigan Ambassadors program, a commitment to substantive consultation with the undergraduate Students of Color Liberation Front about changing the role of the police in the revised program, a commitment to meetings with Regents on public safety, and a commitment to a policing task force that works with the SoC LF and GEO, evaluates best practices for DPSS information transparency, and issues a public report with recommendations on policing. A full summary of the offer will be available on our website shortly. Our victories on policing in particular came from our members' refusal to abandon these demands by accepting a first offer with zero progress on them, and, importantly, from the work of some of our Black members to reorient around and win strategic first victories in a long-term abolitionist organizing campaign.

Tonight is a beginning. GEO will keep fighting, including to protect undergraduate resident assistants and dining staff from retaliation for their courageous organizing for safe working conditions; to hold the University’s new policing task force accountable for enacting substantive, ongoing change in campus policing; to support our members in grieving individual health and safety violations; and more. GEO has been around since 1975. We’re not going anywhere. We’re not giving up. We need each other still, and we need to show up where and when we’re called. We have built relationships of trust and support not only amongst ourselves, but with various other groups on this campus. We will continue to reach out a hand, to work and organize collectively, demanding safety for everyone as we continue to strengthen these ties.

Unlike today’s split Faculty Senate vote, GEO resoundingly claims no confidence in President Mark Schlissel. But we have tremendous confidence in each and every GEO member, and our collective organizing power. The fight for a safe and just campus for all continues.

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