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University of Michigan graduate workers set to begin strike Wednesday

University of Michigan
The Graduate Employees’ Organization, which represents 1,315 graduate student instructors and staff assistants, plans to begin a strike Wednesday. There is about a month left of classes in the semester. (Katherine Welles /
  • The union that represents graduate student workers at U-M is poised to strike Wednesday morning 
  • The union is asking for a 60-percent wage increase, citing Ann Arbor’s high cost of living 
  • U-M has threatened legal action, though it’s unclear when that would happen

April 10: Judge declines to order University of Michigan grad students back to work
April 4: U-M grad student worker strike continues; judge won’t end walkout
March 29: University of Michigan pushes back against graduate student strike

ANN ARBOR — The union representing graduate student workers at the University of Michigan is poised to strike Wednesday over demands for a significant pay increase, changes to healthcare benefits and other issues. 

The university has vowed to take the union to court to enforce its current contract. 

The Graduate Employees’ Organization (GEO) said it plans to hold a walkout at 10:24 a.m. Wednesday.


The union is seeking a 60-percent pay raise in year one of its new contract, which would increase pay for grad students who teach in the fall and spring from about $24,000 a year to about $38,000.

The university is proposing an 11.5 percent increase over three years, with a 5 percent raise in the first year, a 3.5 percent increase the following year and 3 percent increase the year after.

The union has not budged from its initial pay demand. 

“We want workers to be paid the cost that it takes to live in Ann Arbor where workers live and study,” GEO member and PhD candidate Alejo Stark told Bridge Michigan on Tuesday. 


The union includes 1,315 graduate student instructors (GSIs) and graduate student staff assistants (GSSAs). GSIs teach undergraduate classes, grade assignments and hold office hours while GSSAs do other work for the university, including helping with programming. In addition to pay, the grad students receive tuition waivers for their university work. 

The university pledges to continue holding classes if a strike happens. U-M spokesperson Rick Fitzgerald told Bridge Tuesday he doesn’t know how many students or courses will be affected by the strike since it’s possible some graduate workers would choose to work despite the strike. 

But it’s unclear if the university will be able to staff all the classrooms run by graduate students. Stark said GSI’s make up about 28 percent of classroom instructors at U-M. 

And a growing number of faculty and other instructors appear to be backing the union. More than 400 university professors, instructors and others have signed a pledge not to take over the work of striking grad students. 

“Grad workers cannot go on skipping meals, selling their plasma, going into debt, and taking other emergency measures to afford to work here,” said the letter accompanying the pledge. 

“Given the University’s failure to recognize the real hardship that many graduate workers face, and by refusing grad workers a living wage, the University seems intent on provoking a strike,” the letter continues, adding, “We pledge not to recruit replacements for struck labor.”

The union voted to authorize a strike late last week but said it would give university officials the weekend to consider improving its offer. But the two sides have yet to close their differences and no new negotiations are currently scheduled to take place until Friday.  

“I just don’t think much is going to change from now until tomorrow,” Stark said Tuesday. “Instead, what we see is the university increasing its threats against us.”

On Monday afternoon, Laurie McCauley, provost and executive vice president for academic affairs, told GSIs and GSSAs in an email they would need to fill out a weekly form saying that they worked during the strike to get paid. 

McCauley said the university will not pay striking workers but they will still have their tuition waivers and health benefits paid.  

She also reiterated that the university would take legal action if a strike were to occur. The university said it would ask a court to find the union in breach of its contract and order workers back to work.

“The university is prepared to take appropriate lawful actions to enforce the contract as written and enable the continued fulfillment of our educational mission,” McCauley wrote in the email. “We truly hope not to have to take any of these actions. We prefer to resolve any concerns through productive discussions at the bargaining table.” 


Fitzgerald, the U-M spokesperson, told Bridge the timing of the university’s legal action “remains under consideration.” 

Negotiations between the union and the university have been ongoing since November. Union representatives met with the university on Friday and Sunday to negotiate. The union has also filed unfair labor practice charges in recent weeks against the university.

The union held a strike authorization vote last week where 95 percent of those voting approved a strike. On Monday, the union held a mass meeting and it was decided that the strike would begin Wednesday. 

The Ann Arbor campus’ last day of classes this semester is April 23.

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