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University of Michigan graduate employees to strike, calling for ’safe campus’

Group disagrees with university’s fall plans amid coronavirus pandemic

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ANN ARBOR, Mich. – The University of Michigan’s Graduate Employees’ Organization (GEO) will begin striking Tuesday to protest the university’s return to in-person education amid the coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic.

GEO represents graduate student instructors and graduate student staff assistants at U-M.

The organization voted in favor of the strike on Monday, according to a tweet posted by the group -- one week after classes resumed on campus.

“The vote passes! GEO membership has authorized a strike, effective TOMORROW,” the tweet reads. “This is a historic moment: we are striking at the beginning of the year, in the midst of a pandemic, to protect our whole community.”

U-M students returned to campus for the fall semester on Aug. 31. The university is offering both in-person and online learning options amid the pandemic.

In an effort to prevent to prevent the spread of COVID-19, U-M plans to test 3,000 students each week for the virus under a new program.

Still, some argue that consistent testing will not solely keep students protected from coronavirus infection. The University of Michigan’s Lecturers’ Employee Organization (LEO) said Monday that the COVID-19 testing plan is inadequate, and that they support GEO’s decision to strike.

“After weeks of futile negotiations, GEO members have decided to go on strike. GEO leaders, in turn, have chosen to use that tool to pressure the Administration to take their demands more seriously,” wrote LEO President Ian Robinson in a press release.Like our graduate student colleagues, LEO condemns the way the Administration has mismanaged the return to classes this Fall: employees, including Lecturers, were not properly consulted; information about the Fall plan, and internal disagreements over it, have been withheld; and the testing regime in place appears inadequate to the task of keeping students and employees safe.”

Prior to their return to campus, U-M students were told to have a period of “enhanced social distancing” before returning to campus and were asked to test themselves for COVID-19.

The university also created a COVID-19 dashboard that provides updates regarding cases of COVID-19 on the Ann Arbor campus. Data about the number of tests and cases since March 8 is included, as well as information about positivity rates, isolation numbers and state or regional trends.

The university released the following statement:

“The state of Michigan prohibits public employees from striking. GEO’s contract with U-M also prohibits the union and GSIs and GSSAs from taking part in any action against or interference with the operations of the university, such as failing to report for duty or failure to perform their employment duties.

A strike by GEO violates the GEO contract and violates state law.

Separately, GEO has raised a number of issues that cannot be resolved as a matter of their contract or through a collective bargaining procedure.

The university is preparing to continue operations, including classes, in the event of a strike.”

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About the Authors:

Sarah has worked for WDIV since June 2018. She covers community events, good eats and small businesses in Ann Arbor and has a Master's degree in Applied Linguistics from Grand Valley State University.