September 16, 2020
FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE — Tonight, GEO membership voted to accept the University’s second offer and end our historic, abolitionist strike for a safe and just campus amid a global pandemic. At our largest general membership meeting to date, 1,074 GEO members voted to accept the university’s offer, 239 members voted to reject, and 66 abstained.
Our strike is now over. GEO members and supporters now return to our regular work duties.
Thousands of members and allies came out in force day after day on the virtual and in-person picket lines to show that graduate students and their allies were prepared to fight for this community. By withholding our labor, building coalitions, and making our power impossible to ignore, we forced the university to give us an offer with substantive progress toward a safe and just campus.
In the face of our power, the University of Michigan decided to lean on a nearly hundred year old union-busting law to sue their own graduate students. President Mark Schlissel belittled our months of persistent negotiation and organizing as “screaming” and tried to paint us as unreasonable, all while COVID-19 outbreak after outbreak on campus proved our fears for our community’s safety all too accurate. The University poured their immense resources into legal fees instead of simply protecting our community by implementing reasonable steps toward a safe and just pandemic response for all.
But in the face of the University’s threats and bullying, our member power still won critical progress. We won workable pandemic childcare options; substantive support for international graduate students; transparent COVID-19 testing protocols; and incremental but real movement on our policing demands, including a commitment to a revision of the Michigan Ambassadors program, a commitment to substantive consultation with the undergraduate Students of Color Liberation Front about changing the role of the police in the revised program , a commitment to meetings with Regents on public safety, and a commitment to a policing task force that works with the SoC LF and GEO, evaluates best practices for DPSS information transparency, and issues a public report with recommendations on policing. A full summary of the offer will be available on our website shortly. Our victories on policing in particular came from our members’ refusal to abandon these demands by accepting a first offer with zero progress on them, and, importantly, from the work of some of our Black members to reorient around and win strategic first victories in a long-term abolitionist organizing campaign.
Tonight is a beginning. GEO will keep fighting, including to protect undergraduate resident assistants and dining staff from retaliation for their courageous organizing for safe working conditions; to hold the University’s new policing task force accountable for enacting substantive, ongoing change in campus policing; to support our members in grieving individual health and safety violations; and more. GEO has been around since 1975. We’re not going anywhere. We’re not giving up. We need each other still, and we need to show up where and when we’re called. We have built relationships of trust and support not only amongst ourselves, but with various other groups on this campus. We will continue to reach out a hand, to work and organize collectively, demanding safety for everyone as we continue to strengthen these ties.
Unlike today’s split Faculty Senate vote, GEO resoundingly claims no confidence in President Mark Schlissel. But we have tremendous confidence in each and every GEO member, and our collective organizing power. The fight for a safe and just campus for all continues.
The Graduate Employees’ Organization (GEO) is a labor union that represents over 2,000 Graduate Student Instructors (GSIs) and Graduate Student Staff Assistants (GSSAs) at the University of Michigan. Founded in 1974, it is one of the oldest and longest-running graduate student unions in the United States.
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Leah Bernardo-Ciddio and Cassandra Euphrat Weston
Co-Chairs, Communications Committee
Graduate Employees’ Organization