Michigan graduate workers strike


Michigan graduate workers strike

University of Michigan graduate staff instructors and assistants began the strike on Wednesday, seeking to raise their annual minimum wages from $24,000 to about $38,500 and gain easier access to health care for transgender members. , an emergency fund for international students, and other benefits.

The Graduate Employees’ Organization (GEO) acknowledges that their Ann Arbor strike is illegal under its own collective bargaining agreement with the university. On Thursday, the university said it had filed a lawsuit alleging breach of contract and asked for an injunction that would order the strikers back to work.

The university also cut pay for strikers and stopped taking paycheck deductions to pay union dues.

“We are on strike because our members cannot afford basic necessities,” said Amir Fleischmann, Ph.D. candidate and a graduate student instructor who chairs GEO’s procurement committee. He said the university, despite inflation and rent increases, only offered a 5% raise for the next academic year, followed by a 3.5% raise the year after and a 3% raise the year after.

Fleischmann said the union has just over 1,300 regular paying members among the staff’s roughly 2,400 graduate student instructors and assistants, although he declined to say on Thursday how many are on strike.

“We prefer to keep it secret for strategic purposes,” he said.

GEO said the vote last week to authorize the strike was 95 percent in favor. Fleischmann also did not reveal the number of members who voted, but said the union believes it was one of its largest turnouts.

On its website, the union says the strike amounts to “breach of contract, and the university can legally punish or dismiss us. The question is whether the university would retaliate against the workers and the union instead of paying us a living wage. It is highly unlikely that UM will lay off all of its (graduate students, instructors and assistant staff) because we are essential to the day-to-day operations of the university. They need us!”

The university said in an email on Thursday that “in addition to any legal considerations, there is an ethical consideration: if collective bargaining is to retain its value, all parties must honor the terms of the contract they signed. We urge GEO to reconsider its breach of the agreement we reached through collective bargaining in good faith.”

“Our focus remains on continuing education for our students and achieving an agreement with GEO through the negotiation process,” the university said. “The next negotiation session is scheduled for Friday and the university remains ready to meet at any time.”

The university’s endowment was valued at $17.3 billion as of June 30, according to its website.

In a pre-strike message, Laurie K. McCauley, Michigan’s dean and executive vice president of academic affairs, wrote that the “university will continue to offer classes as scheduled.”

“School, college, and department leaders are planning for substitute instructors, alternate assignments, and other means to provide instruction as needed,” McCauley wrote. “The university is committed to ensuring that all students receive accurate grades for their courses and ensuring that all graduates can attend graduation.”

“We firmly believe that a strike is simply not the best way for GEO to achieve its goals,” she wrote. “There are many weeks to trade before the May 1 contract expires, and our intention is to continue trading with GEO regardless of a strike.”

“While negotiators made progress on some issues, the union has failed to make progress on most of its key demands, including a 60% wage increase, even as it continues to try to negotiate other issues that are outside the scope of this contract, such as police reform. ”, she wrote.

Fleischmann said that along with the pay increase, the union is also seeking an unarmed campus police alternative, sexual harassment protections, expanded childcare subsidies, 12 weeks of paid parental leave and limits on copayments for chronic conditions and mental health.

And regarding healthcare for transgender members, Fleischmann said, “There are some barriers that prevent our transgender members from being able to access the care to which they are entitled. Some of them are really onerous requirements for doctors’ letters or insurance letters that wouldn’t be needed for any other type of health care, but are being required for gender-affirming care.”

He said that includes things like requiring a letter from a psychologist to perform facial surgery and limiting speech therapy sessions to transgender members.

He said the union and university had been in talks since November, but a few weeks ago the university sidestepped the union and said it planned to start paying PhDs. students on a 12-month basis – effectively increasing his annual salary from the $24,000 minimum for two semesters with no summer pay to $36,000, close to the union’s target.

But that change, he said, excluded other members from the increase. He said he thinks that led to the strike.

“Suddenly, out of the blue, they come up with a hasty plan, saying we had the money all along, and really, you deserve a living wage and our graduate programs won’t be competitive if we don’t have one. ,” he said.

“If they are serious about this proposal, they should put it in the contract where it belongs,” he said.

Fleischmann also said that the finals are coming before the end of April. When asked if attacking close to that was strategic, he said: “We’ll let your readers draw their own conclusions.”

He said trading resumes at 9 am today.