University of Michigan sues graduate union over strike, bargaining continues
- The University of Michigan is asking a circuit court to order graduate student workers back to work
- Graduate student instructors and staff assistants have been on strike since Wednesday
- The university and union are meeting for a bargaining session Friday
The University of Michigan is asking the Washtenaw County Circuit Court to order graduate student workers back to work after union members began a strike this week.
Members of the Graduate Employees' Organization (GEO) began a strike Wednesday. On the same day, the university filed an unfair labor practice charge with the state and urged the state to order the union to stop the strike.
Then on Thursday, the university filed a lawsuit against the union, requesting a temporary restraining order and preliminary injunction that would order students back to work.
The university alleges that striking breaks the rules of the labor contract with the union, violates Michigan law and irreparably harms the students, their families, the university and the general public.
The two groups have been bargaining since November 2022 but still have strong disagreements on several issues including pay, childcare and healthcare benefits.
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.
There are about 2,200 graduate student instructors (GSIs) and graduate student staff assistants (GSAs) who teach or co-teach a class at the university, the university said in court filings. The union has 1,315 GSI or GSSAs members.
The university said there is often not a substitute who can fill in for a graduate student when he or she stops teaching a course, which means students then have to teach themselves.
“However, such self-instruction necessarily negatively impacts student learning, undermines student well-being, and has the potential to negatively impact grades, with consequences keenly felt in applications for professional and graduate programs.”
Classes are set to end April 18.
“We think it’s completely reprehensible that the university would rather sue its own students and workers rather than pay us a living wage,” Amir Fleischmann, chair of the GEO contract committee and member of the bargaining team, told Bridge Michigan Friday.
The union has acknowledged that the strike goes against the contract and the law in informational materials about the strike, according to a copy of a pamphlet included in the university’s court filings. The union also acknowledges this in an online frequently asked questions document.
A hearing is scheduled for Tuesday April 4. The union and university are meeting Friday March 31 to bargain over the next contract. Both parties have been negotiating since November 2022. Both the university and union have filed unfair labor practice charges against each other to the state.
GEO President Jared Eno told Bridge there will also likely be bargaining over the weekend.
He said the lawsuit was “not totally unexpected but it’s still really disappointing” since the university is essentially asking “to keep things the same” in the lawsuit while graduate students face hardships.
An attorney for the union referred a Bridge reporter to David Hecker, the president of the American Federation of Teachers Michigan, the state affiliate with the local union.
“Everyone’s efforts should be 100 percent toward problem solving at the bargaining table and working out a contract that’s fair,” Hecker told Bridge.
He said whether the union is able to end its strike before the hearing is really up to the university, with the issue being “in management’s court.”
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