Dear Members of the University of Michigan Community,
As you may already know, the university is in contract negotiations with the union representing graduate student instructors (GSIs) and graduate student staff assistants (GSSAs). The union just concluded a strike authorization vote. We are disappointed that the Graduate Employees’ Organization (GEO) has decided to take this step. A strike would needlessly hurt undergraduate students and violate the union’s own contractual commitment not to do so.
Since contract negotiations began in November, the university has remained committed to bargaining in good faith with GEO on all bargainable issues, recognizing the essential contributions of GSIs and GSSAs to our academic community. It is in the best interests of us all – faculty, students, staff and graduate employees – to provide a compensation and benefits package that is competitive with the best public universities in the country. Doing so ensures we attract and retain the very best graduate student scholars in the world – and support their ability to thrive here.
These principles, which have guided decades of successful contract negotiations with GEO, are why we continue to make serious efforts to keep bargaining moving forward, which includes additional bargaining sessions and asking a state-appointed neutral mediator to assist the parties. It’s why we’ve offered a compensation proposal that includes raises in Ann Arbor of 11.5% over the life of the contract, the highest salary increase in 15 years.
And it’s why we still believe that any unresolved issues are best ironed out through thoughtful and productive discussions at the bargaining table.
Where the university and GEO do not agree
GEO’s threat to strike is based on a number of issues, some of which are not related to GSIs’ and GSSAs’ wages, hours, and working conditions. Some of these issues are important for our campus and merit further discussion with diverse perspectives and other community groups. In other areas, the union has been unwilling to deviate at all from their original proposals despite months of negotiating.
Here are some notable examples of the more than 50 contract changes that GEO has proposed:
- The union demands that its members receive a 60% wage increase in the first year of their contract, and additional increases in the second and third years. GEO proposed this raise in November and has not moved at all from it since then. Under the university’s current compensation proposal, GEO members on the Ann Arbor campus would receive 11.5% in total raises over the next three years (5%, 3.5%, 3%) and make roughly $38-$39 per hour by year three.
- The union demands the university fund a non-police urgent response program separate from the Division of Public Safety and Security (DPSS) and available throughout Washtenaw County, as well as bar federal agents from entering university property to execute certain search or arrest warrants. Both proposals are outside the scope of the union’s contract and would be inappropriate for one bargaining unit to decide for our entire community.
- The union demands unilateral authority for GSIs to shift classes to remote mode for any health and safety reason. Such latitude would be detrimental to the university’s core identity as a residential institution and its commitment to ensuring continuity of education for our undergraduate students.
What happens next
Now that GEO members have voted in the affirmative on a strike authorization, it empowers union leadership to call a strike at any time. By calling a strike, GEO would be asking its members to withhold their instruction from students, in breach of their current labor contract, which remains in effect through May 1. A strike also violates Michigan law.
If the union chooses to strike, the university will continue to hold classes as scheduled. Our school, college, and department leaders are planning for substitute instructors, alternative assignments, and other means for delivering instruction if it is required. There would likely be visible activism on the campus and we respect the right of any group to peacefully advocate for their positions.
Additionally, the university will take appropriate lawful actions to enable the continued delivery of our educational mission in the event of a work disruption. Those actions will include asking a court to find a breach of contract and order strikers back to work, stopping the deduction of union dues, filing unfair labor practice charges, and not paying striking GSIs and GSSAs for time they do not work.
We sincerely hope that these issues are resolved through thoughtful and productive discussions at the bargaining table. We remain confident that this is the best venue for achieving a fair and forward-looking contract agreement and ensuring the university and union members can do what they do best, by continuing to provide a world-class education.
Please see the GEO negotiations website with background information, guiding principles, and important chronological updates from each bargaining week. You may also follow @UMichHR on Twitter to receive notice when a new update is available.
Thank you for taking the time to learn more about this important issue.
Santa J. Ono
Laurie K. McCauley
Provost and Executive Vice President for Academic Affairs