Judge declines to order University of Michigan grad students back to work
- A judge declined to order University of Michigan graduate students workers to end a strike
- The union represents graduate student instructors and staff assistants
- Classes are set to end April 18
ANN ARBOR — Washtenaw County Judge Carol Kuhnke declined to issue a temporary restraining order or a preliminary injunction that would have ordered University of Michigan graduate student workers back to work.
The Graduate Employees’ Organization union, which represents both graduate student instructors and staff assistants, started its strike on March 29 seeking increases to pay and benefits. Many of the grad students lead undergraduate classes, which run this semester through April 18.
Last week, Kuhnke declined to issue a temporary restraining order that would have ordered the striking workers back to work.
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- University of Michigan pushes back against graduate student strike
Kuhnke said Monday she understood students and the University community had experienced injury from the strike but not at the “extremely high standard” of irreparable harm.
The hearing centered around whether the University had suffered irreparable harm from the strike. Generally, lawyers did not speak about the specific disagreements between the union and the University as it bargains for a new contract.
Lawyers for the University argued the strike has caused irreparable harm while the lawyers for the union argued that class or discussion section cancellations did not alone reflect irreparable harm.
“We’ve seen that we have many classes and sections canceled,” lawyer for the University Craig Schwartz said. “This is not the education that the University of Michigan students deserve.”
The graduate student union said the University could adjust its grading procedures as it did during the first year of the pandemic in 2020.
“The strike isn't gonna wipe out grading at the University of Michigan,” said attorney Mark Cousens who represented the union during the hearing. “There will be some courses for which grades are not issued. And the university has a method for responding to that. But it isn’t everybody. And yet, the University’s request for an injunction is broad and it is steep.”
With classes set to end next Tuesday, the University urged the judge to order the graduate students back to work.
They brought forward leaders in the School of Information, the School of Music, Theatre & Dance, the Ross School of Business and the College of Literature, Science, and the Arts.
They also brought forward one public policy undergraduate student, Subhamitra Roychoudhury, who testified that if the strike continues, his economics grade could be affected and that could adversely affect his ability to get into specific early-decision law school programs.
Roychoudhury told reporters after the hearing that he was “somewhat upset” by Kuhnke’s decision but felt he had done what he could to end the strike.
Kuhnke said she understood that students’ had experienced injury but it hadn’t met the threshold of irreparable harm.
"While we are disappointed in the decision, we appreciate Judge Kuhnke’s acknowledgement that our students are still being harmed," university spokesperson Kim Broekhuizen said afterward. "We also understand the high legal standard of 'irreparable harm' we faced.
"The university remains ready and willing to negotiate. In the meantime, our top priority continues to be carrying out the educational mission of this university."
GEO President Jared Eno told reporters after the hearing that he hopes Kuhnke's decision will change the University’s tone for bargaining.
“I hope that this finally shows the University that they should work with us to collaboratively solve the serious problems that we’ve brought to the table that grad workers are facing, that are not only making a lot of hardship for grad workers but also meaning that we can’t do the best we can for our students,” Eno said.
There are bargaining sessions scheduled every day for the remainder of the week, he said.
Both the University and the union have filed allegations of unfair labor practices to the state. Eno said he expects there to be hearings on those allegations at the end of April and beginning of May.
Schwartz, representing the University, said he would defer to the University to respond to questions about the case.
The University of Michigan did not immediately respond to a request for comment on the judge’s decision.
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