The University of Michigan has filed an unfair labor practice charge against the union representing graduate student employees on campus. The Graduate Employees' Organization, or GEO, has been on strike since Tuesday, protesting the university's COVID-19 reopening plans. The union's list of demands include the universal right to work remotely and greater transparency from U of M in terms of the models it used to create reopening plans.
The charge, filed with the Michigan Employment Relations Commission on the same day the strike began, states that GEO is in violation of the "No Interference" clause of its contract with the university. This clause says that employees are not allowed to participate in or encourage "any concerted action against or any concerted interference with the operation of the University, such as the failure to report for duty, the absence from one’s position, the stoppage of work, or the failure, in whole or part, to fully, faithfully, and properly perform the duties of employment."
The charge also says items on GEO's list of demands are "non-mandatory and/or illegal subjects of bargaining." The charge says all of GEO's anti-policing demands fall under this non-mandatory and/or illegal category, as well as the demands for extensions to degree timelines and funding, a $2500 emergency grant, and rent freezes and flexible leases for on-campus housing. The university is asking MERC to order GEO to cease and desist in its strike and "from repudiating its collective bargaining agreement with the University."
Members of GEO, who've been striking since Tuesday, say they're feeling energized. The university made GEO an offer on Wednesday night, which union membership voted to reject in a vote of 736 to 428, with 81 abstaining. There has been no offer from U of M since. On Friday, other groups including U of M resident assistants, dining hall workers, and undergraduate students advocating for representation on the Board of Regents gathered on campus to rally in support of the striking graduate students. Faculty have also expressed their support for GEO's strike, circulating a letter with nearly 500 signatures. Union leadership says this is the longest GEO strike since the 1970s.
GEO's strike expired on Friday. The union will vote remotely this weekend on whether to renew the strike, and the results will be available Sunday.
Jeff Lockhart is a member of the GEO and a PhD candidate in the Department of Sociology. He says a good chunk of Friday's membership meeting was dedicated to discussing the unfair labor practice charge so that union membership would fully understand the legal situation and the risks.
"When membership votes whether to reauthorize, it will be with full knowledge of the risks. At every meeting GEO has where a strike is mentioned, this summer and during contract campaigns in previous years, the legal risks are discussed in detail so that by the time a vote comes around, we have heard them several times. It is, of course, scary stuff. When we vote to strike anyway, it means we really care about the platform."
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