Judge: Striking University of Michigan graduate employees in violation of contract

University of Michigan files unfair labor practice charge against striking student workers

ANN ARBOR – A state administrative judge ruled on Monday that the Graduate Employees’ Organization at the University of Michigan has violated the no-strike clause in its existing contract with the university by walking off the job on March 29.

The judge, David Peltz, ruled the union committed an unfair labor practice by going on strike in response to an unfair labor charge filed on March 29 by the University of Michigan.

“The undisputed facts establish that the GEO engaged in conduct wholly inconsistent with its obligations under the contract,” Peltz wrote. “By agreeing to Article III, the GEO is contractually obligated to refrain from causing, instigating, supporting or encouraging any ‘concerted interference with the operation of the University’ including the ‘failure, in whole or part, to fully, faithfully, and properly perform the duties of employment.’”

The ruling comes after an injunction by U-M against the union was denied twice in court, since the strike was not causing the university “irreparable harm,” according to Washtenaw County Circuit Judge Carol Kuhnke.

“The recommended order is that GEO cease and desist violating its contract, thereby ending the strike,” reads a U-M release.

GEO can appeal the decision, a move leaders have said they plan on doing.

“We will appeal the ALJ’s recommended decision to the entire commission, until which time the order is not final,” GEO Secretary Karthik Ganapathy said in a statement. “No court can decide to suspend our strike as the decision to strike (or not) is up to the rank-and-file members of our union.”

The university, for its part, continues to to call on the student instructors to return to the negotiating table.

“Despite knowing that this strike violates its own contractual promise not to strike, striking GEO members walked out on their students and have declined to return to work,” U-M spokesperson Rick Fitzgerald said in a statement. “This has left our students’ exams and final grades in jeopardy at a crucial time near the end of the semester.

“While the university has worked diligently to ensure that the negative impact felt by students is minimized, it is in the best interest of the entire campus community, especially our undergraduate students, for GEO to stop its strike and return to the classroom.”

GEO is demanding a 60% pay raise for the next academic year, as part of a three-year contract. Its current contact expires on May 1. The university currently proposes an 11.5% raise over the next three years.