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U of M graduate student employees begin strike over COVID-19 plans

a sign for GEO that says UM works because we do
Caroline Llanes
Michigan Radio

Undeterred by heavy rain Tuesday morning, protesters gathered around the University of Michigan’s campus, chanting and marching in protest of the school’s COVID-19 reopening plans. Today was the first day of a strike organized by the Graduate Employees’ Organization, or GEO, the union that represents graduate student employees at U of M.

Items on the GEO’s list of demands include greater transparency from U of M administration on its contact tracing and testing plans, greater representation in the school’s decision making process and access to health models used to inform the current plan, and the universal right to work remotely for graduate student employees.


a banner on the university of michigan that says geo stands 4 black lives
Credit Caroline Llanes / Michigan Radio
A banner that says "GEO Stands 4 BLACK LIVES" was hung by the school's biological sciences building.

The union is also calling on the university to sever ties with the Ann Arbor Police Department and Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE), as well as a 50% budget cut to the schools Division of Public Safety and Security (DPSS).


Organizers with GEO and supporters marched with signs, which included slogans like “UM works because we do” and “Your instructor is striking for a safe and just campus.” Chants with cowbells and other noisemakers expressed picketers’ frustration with the university. “Health informed, that’s a lie, you don’t care if people die,” one group chanted. “Ann Arbor was a union town, if we don’t get it, shut it down,” was another refrain. 

GEO members hold signs protesting the university's reopening plan
Credit Caroline Llanes / Michigan Radio
GEO members and supporters held signs that read, "Your INSTRUCTOR is STRIKING for a Safe and Just Campus!"

Another chant referencing the union’s anti-policing demands was, “Fund healthcare! Not cops! Fund ethics studies! Not cops! Fund workers! Not cops! Fund Flint! Not cops! Fund Flint! Not cops! Fund Dearborn! Not cops!”


Amir Fleischmann is the secretary for the GEO and a doctoral student in the Department of Political Science. He says support for the strike has been enthusiastic, something he hopes will continue throughout the week.


“Since we announced the strike yesterday, we have had hundreds of new picket shift signups," he says. "I was here at 4:30 this morning, we had a full slate of people ready to go at five, we’ve been out there ever since. We’ve had people going, even though we had a huge rainstorm, chanting and expressing their frustration at the university’s obstinance on our incredibly important demands.”


Credit Caroline Llanes / Michigan Radio

Kathleen Brown is a member of the GEO and a graduate student instructor (GSI) in the Department of American Culture. She calls the strike "historic."


“You know, these are big demands, and we’re starting from zero," she says. "The university, last night, gave us no offer. And so, after months, we really don’t know what to expect, but we are hopeful that the university will recognize the needs of graduate students and the broader community.”

Fleischmann echoed Brown’s concerns about the responsiveness of the university.


“We’re not expecting to get 100% of our demands, but we do need to see movement in each of the different categories of demands that we have," he says. "I would say that if the university really refuses to budge on a lot of things, there is a strong possibility for a renewal, and we’re feeling very energized.”

hatcher graduate library geo strike
Credit Caroline Llanes / Michigan Radio
Slogans written with chalk around campus further emphasized GEO members' demands.



The strike will continue until the university and the union can come to an agreement, or until Friday, when the strike expires. At that point, GEO members can vote on whether to renew the strike.


A university spokesman says communications between the union and the university continue, and pointed to an article in the University Record on the strike.


Editor's note: The University of Michigan holds Michigan Radio's license.

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