ANN ARBOR – The University of Michigan filed an unfair labor practice charge on Wednesday against the school’s Graduate Employees Organization for going on strike.
The GEO announced a strike would begin at 10:24 a.m. on Wednesday, a move that university officials said violates the contract it has with the union that expires on May 1.
“A strike by public employees also is contrary to Michigan law,” U-M spokesperson Rick Fitzgerald said in a statement to Local 4 News. “We strongly believe the best place to resolve differences is at the bargaining table.”
The student workers are calling for a living wage and better healthcare, according to a GEO release.
The union held a press conference during the strike on Wednesday. GEO President and PhD candidate Jared Eno said the union does not feel the university is taking its members seriously at the negotiating table.
“We love serving our fellow students, but we need pay that allows workers to afford rent and, for those of us with children, to have adequate childcare,” Eno said. “Over a period of months, the university has not taken our needs seriously, leaving us with no choice for our members but to withhold our labor. The vote to authorize this strike was 95 percent in favor. That says something about people’s determination to get justice.”
“It’s an open secret that between our teaching, our research, and our service work, grad students put in incredible hours,” vice president and PhD candidate Ember McCoy said. “We keep the university running. And yet, a third of our members are barely able to keep a roof over their heads. You shouldn’t have to be rich to afford to do this job. Everyone should be paid for all the work they do, all the hours we put in. That is basic economics, basic justice and it’s at the heart of making the university serve everyone.”
Classes continued on Wednesday as scheduled with substitute instructors and alternative means of instruction, according to a U-M release.
In a statement, university officials said they recognize the “essential contributions” of graduate student workers and they remain committed to bargain with the union in good faith.
However, the university called on GEO members to consider the ethical implications of their strike and honor the terms of their current contract.
“As students ourselves, we’ve spent months trying to get the university to do right by us and by our students, whose learning conditions are our working conditions,” said bargaining team member and PhD candidate David Helps. “We didn’t take this action lightly. We took it based on our needs as workers, and the need to serve our fellow students.”
The next bargaining session is set for Friday.