ANN ARBOR, MI – As the University of Michigan Graduate Employees’ Organization (GEO) voted to extend its strike for “a safe and just campus” for an additional five days, the university is seeking a temporary restraining order and preliminary injunction against the union strike.
UM is asking the Washtenaw County Circuit Court to order striking members of the GEO to return to work. The union represents about 2,000 graduate student instructors and graduate student staff assistants.
In the court filing, UM noted that, “Not only are GEO’s members interfering in the university’s mission to educate students by unlawfully withholding their labor, they are encouraging impressionable undergraduate students, over whom they exercise significant authority, to forego their education.”
The strike began Tuesday, Sept. 8, as graduate students marched and chanted at five different locations on UM’s campus. It has gained the support of undergraduate students; graduate student organizations from other colleges, such as Harvard and Western Michigan University; and even some construction workers on UM’s campus who picketed with them in solidarity.
UM has since submitted an offer to GEO, but that offer was rejected.
In a news release, Schlissel said UM can no longer allow the “profound disruption to the education we’ve promised our undergraduate students” in authorizing the temporary restraining order and preliminary injunction.
“We want our great classes to continue, our students to learn without interference and we don’t want anyone to feel threatened simply for wanting to go to class,” said Schlissel in a video to the campus community. “Going to the court was our only choice after learning the strike would continue. We’d much rather our classes be in session while we work out our differences.”
In the release, Schlissel said UM welcomes the opportunity to discuss the issues GEO has raised and noted the university’s offer to continue talks remains open.
“The issues raised are very important and we are committed to addressing them—but we can’t do it at the expense of our students’ education,” he said.
The injunction came a day after 80% of voting members of UM’s Graduate Employees’ Organization (GEO) voted to extend its strike for “a safe and just campus” for an additional five days after picketing all of last week.
“Membership overwhelmingly rejected the university’s initial offer last week that did not constitute continued progress on our demands,” the union noted in a news release. “In particular, the university’s offer constituted zero progress on our policing demands.”
The strike began Tuesday, Sept. 8, as graduate students marched and chanted at five different locations on UM’s campus. They continued Wednesday and have gained the support of undergraduate students; graduate student organizations from other colleges, such as Harvard and Western Michigan University; and even some construction workers on UM’s campus who picketed with them in solidarity.
The graduate student organization has several demands for the university, including more transparency in UM’s plan related to the COVID-19 pandemic, support for graduate student instructors to work remotely, childcare subsidies, demilitarizing the campus’s Division of Public Safety and Security and ending ties to local law enforcement and other agencies, such as Immigration and Customs Enforcement.
UM noted that undergraduates have reported that their remote classes have been shut down and access to course content has been blocked so they are unable to continue their studies.
According to the university’s court filing, undergraduate students have been pressured to support the GEO strike and urged not to attend their classes.
If the injunction is granted, GEO members who still refuse to return to work could be held in contempt of court. The university noted the union could face civil damages for conducting a strike that violates the terms of its contract with the university. The strike also violates state law prohibiting public employees from striking.
From COVID testing to cops, University of Michigan graduate students explain why they’re striking
The effort by graduate students helped staff in UM residence halls to announce their own strike due to what they say is a lack of coronavirus health protections for workers. Residence hall staff have several demands for UM administrators, including regular access to COVID-19 testing, effective personal protective equipment and enforcement of social distancing.
As the UM campus continues to buzz with strikes among graduate employees and a pending faculty senate no confidence vote in university administration, Schlissel and Provost Susan Collins will host a live chat aimed at addressing questions in the university community.
The chat will take place at 1:45 p.m. Tuesday, Sept. 15, online.
The question and answer session will take place after Schilssel pledged to engage and to listen more in order to enhance trust and share information.
Professor Scott E. Page, a professor in the College of Literature, Science, and the Arts and Stephen M. Ross School of Business, will pose questions and concerns he’s been hearing about COVID-19, campus planning and how the pandemic is affecting members of the UM community.
Questions for the session can be submitted online, although an online option has not yet been made available.
Schlissel and UM’s administration also face scrutiny over the university’s reopening plans with two faculty senate votes of no confidence scheduled for Wednesday, Sept. 16, with one vote signifying no confidence in the administration’s re-opening plan and another no confidence vote in Schlissel’s leadership.
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