Student Organizing in Albania and North Carolina

It’s been an incredibly long several weeks between the election, lame duck, and issues of academic freedom. In light of that, we wanted to share a couple of incredibly inspiring actions to uplift us all as we move into the break. GEO proudly stands in solidarity with students all over the world pursuing justice through political and job actions.


GEO expresses solidarity with public university students in Albania who have been protesting the government’s neoliberal education reforms of recent years. The protests began on Wednesday, December 5 with a walkout from University of Tirana buildings and a subsequent march to the Ministry of Education. The protests have continued since Wednesday with regional public university students in the cities of Shkodra, Vlora, Korça, Durrës, and Elbasan also staging their own walkouts. Students are demanding the government take immediate action against public university fee increases. While the Minister of Education has agreed to cancel the implementation of a new exam fee, they have not addressed the students’ demands to repeal tuition increases that began in 2014. Students will continue to protest over the weekend holiday and into next week until the government takes action to address tuition increases. #mestudentet #peruniversitetin


GEO expresses solidarity with TA’s and faculty at the University of North Carolina withholding grading labor in the pursuit of campus racial equity and safety. Though collective bargaining is banned (in part to divide white workers and workers of color) and they have no union to speak of, these brave individuals are resisting an administrative push to build a $5.3 million dollar structure to house a previously torn down confederate statue and efforts to hire more law enforcement to surveil protestors. This money would come straight from student fee increases, which is an incredible insult to students of color who would be forced to pay more to feel less safe on campus. TA’s and faculty are now withholding grades to fight back against a continuing legacy of exploitation of workers of color, and GEO is in strong support.  #StrikeDownSam

Read the call to strike and support the UNC Activists Fundrazr.

Newsletter 11/27: GMM on Friday, plus Midterm Updates

Share Your Views and Get Informed

  • Platform Development: Share and discuss ways to improve our contract as we develop our bargaining platform over the next term; hear updates on results from our ongoing bargaining priorities survey.
  • Michigan Lame Duck Session: Yousef Rabhi, Ann Arbor’s State Representative will speak about the threats to Michigan workers during the lame duck session, and on the importance of getting involved to fight against cuts to the minimum wage and paid sick leave.
  • Updates: Progress on solidarity dues, Grievance Committee on letters of recommendation, membership “data dashboard.”
  • Join us after the GMM for a party at the GEO Offices (339 E. Liberty St. Suite 340 – above Isalita)! BYOB please.

Attend the GMM From North Campus

Can’t make it to Central Campus for the General Membership Meeting? The North Campus Organizing Committee will be teleconferencing into the GMM from EECS room 1311. If the north campus location is more convenient for you, join us there with full participation in the GMM.

Lame Duck Threats to Workers!

Using lame duck to pass controversial and partisan legislation is undemocratic. Since 2010, politicians have used lame duck to pass or repeal laws to serve their interests rather than the interests of Michiganders. This year’s lame duck session looks to be no different. Find out more about lame duck at this FAQ.

This year, politicians are expected to gut the Paid Sick Leave and Minimum Wage Increase initiatives, which are both widely popular measures. Republicans have already introduced legislation to rescind many basic rights of unions. It’s important for all Michiganders to pay attention during lame duck and to fight back in every way we can. You can do your part to support working people and promote democracy by signing this pledge and sharing it with your community.

Learn more about how lame duck legislation can affect workers in are linked video below:

Trans Health Caucus

Our trans friends and colleagues are facing a new and increasingly frightening political landscape. Legal protections for trans people under Title IX are eroding, and without them, the fight for trans rights at UM is becoming more and more urgent. This includes, in particular, the fight for equitable healthcare – a fight in which UM has responded to GEO’s efforts with antagonism at nearly every step.

Without Title IX protections in place, the University will be empowered to uphold its openly transphobic coverage exclusions. These exclusions are not based on research or on best practices — for example, if you ask why an often life-saving procedure like gender-affirming facial surgery is excluded, the response will be a hastily cobbled-together string of outdated, unscientific arguments. The exclusions are ultimately based on the fact that it’s cheaper to deny trans people care than it is to provide it. Cutting costs at the expense of trans lives is always morally reprehensible, even if it becomes legally permissible under the Trump administration.

If you are wondering what kind of concrete steps you can take to support and show solidarity with the trans community at the University of Michigan, our Trans Health Caucus has some ideas. See their write-up on Transgender Rights and Title IX.

Not Teaching This Term?

GEO is a labor union representing graduate student employees, yet many of the benefits we negotiate in our contract become the baseline for graduate student packages and are extended to graduate students even when they don’t teach. These include GradCare, tuition waivers, and annual raises. All graduate students benefit from GEO and have a vested interest in keeping our union strong. See your options for contributing solidarity dues in terms you do not teach!

GEO Statement on Lucy Peterson and Letters of Recommendation

The Graduate Employees’ Organization stands in solidarity with Graduate Student Instructor and GEO member Lucy Peterson. After rescinding an offer made to a student to write a reference letter in support of their application to study abroad at Tel-Aviv University, Lucy has faced harassment, received hate mail, and has been forced into the global spotlight. The University violated its obligation to treat Lucy with dignity and respect, in its handling of this situation and in its communication. While publicly threatening sanctions against Lucy, the University failed to communicate about disciplinary proceedings for weeks. Additionally, the University’s lack of clarity on whether she would be disciplined as a student or as an employee limited her ability to make informed decisions based on her rights. GEO stands firm in its expectation that the University abide by its contract and provide a safe work environment for its graduate employees.

Writing letters of recommendation is not covered by the current GEO contract. GSIs opt to write letters of recommendation in their free time and are not paid to do so. The University has appealed to a previously unwritten and unstated expectation that instructors write letters of recommendation solely as agents of the university. GEO disagrees. Letters of recommendation are personal endorsements from the letter writer to their colleagues and reflect on the reputation of the writer. Similar to the Senate Advisory Committee on University Affairs and the American Association of University Professors, we assert that instructors should have the discretion to issue their own letters of recommendation according to their judgement and without fear of reprisal or censorship from the University. While we acknowledge that there are illegitimate reasons to deny a student a letter of recommendation—including, but not limited to, those covered by the anti-discriminatory provisions in GEO’s contract—we believe that Lucy’s actions do not fall into that category.

We condemn the University’s careless response to this matter and in the similar matter of Professor Cheney-Lippold. The administration is now developing new policies on letters of recommendation through a committee without any GSI representation. Any stance on the issue of letters of recommendation will impact GSIs. We therefore demand to be on this committee and for our voices to be heard.

Relevant Links:

GEO Information Statement

President Schlissel’s Statement

Lucy Peterson’s Statement

SACUA Statement

AAUP Statement

University Record Communication and Announcement of Panel

Newsletter 11/2: Midterm Election Resources and Endorsements

Election Day is Tuesday, November 6

Dear Member:

GEO’s involvement in electoral politics has varied throughout our forty-five-year history. For the most part the last decade there has been little to no involvement, beyond occasional voluntary canvassing efforts, and a brief uptick immediately prior to the passage of Right to Work legislation in Michigan in 2012. However, following increasing calls from the membership, this past year GEO distributed an online survey to gauge members’ current preferences for electoral involvement. Respondents overwhelmingly agreed that they would like to see GEO provide information on, and where relevant, endorsements for local races, especially those that would directly affect our members.

Election Resources:

  • Verify your Michigan registration, see a sample ballot, and find your polling location here
  • Tips for voters, including: 7-9am, 4-8pm are rush hours; there is no straight ticket voting option; don’t wear campaign apparel to the polls
  • Remember, if you are told your name is not on the registered voters list, you can ask for a Provisional Ballot
  • Ann Arbor Votes has information on candidates and ballot initiatives in Ann Arbor

GEO Endorsements:

Responding to member interest in GEO endorsements in local races, the GEO Stewards’ Council, composed of representatives from departments across the university, voted on the these endorsements following research and recommendations from the Electoral Action Committee (click on link to read our endorsement in full).

Candidates in General Election

  • University of Michigan Regent: Paul Brown (D)
  • Michigan Supreme Court: Samuel Bagenstos
  • Washtenaw County Board of Commissioners: Katie Scott (D)
  • Ypsilanti District Library Board: Kristy Cooper

Endorsed Ballot Initiatives

  • Proposal 18-1 Legalize Recreational Marijuana – YES
  • Proposal 18-2 Redistricting Commission – YES
  • Proposal 18-3 Voter Rights – YES

Endorsements by Our Parent Union and Labor Affiliates

You can also view the candidate endorsements by AFT (American Federation of Teachers) Michigan, our parent union, and the Huron Valley Area Labor Federation, of which GEO is a member.

GEO Endorses Samuel Bagenstos for Michigan Supreme Court

The Graduate Employees’ Organization, American Federation of Teachers Local 3550, endorses Samuel Bagenstos as a non-partisan candidate for the Justice of the Michigan Supreme Court.  We urge members of our local unions, of other unions, and of our community to vote for Mr. Bagenstos in the Michigan general election on November 6, 2018.

Samuel Bagenstos specializes in constitutional and civil rights litigation, and is currently a professor of law at the University of Michigan where he teaches about disability rights and employment law, among other topics.  We are excited to endorse Mr. Bagenstos due to his long record of defending workers’ rights. He has argued four civil rights cases in the Supreme Courts, three of which saw Mr. Bagenstos defending the right of workers to organize and bargain collectively.  He has also argued cases to protect the rights of pregnant, disabled, and LGBTQ workers, and has testified in congress in favor of the Employment Non-Discrimination Act (which protects workers from discrimination based on their sexuality and gender identity). He has also represented families harmed by the Flint water crisis. Finally, from 2009-2011 Mr. Bagenstos was appointed by President Obama to serve as the Officer for Civil Rights and Civil Liberties at the Department of Homeland Security, where he promoted the Americans with Disabilities Act.

Mr. Bagenstos has shown a clear, career-long commitment to challenging injustice and defending the rights of workers.  We believe his extensive background in civil rights litigation makes him uniquely qualified for a position on the Michigan Supreme Court.

How GEO Makes Endorsements

GEO’s involvement in electoral politics has varied throughout our 45 year history. For the most part the last decade has seen little to no involvement, beyond occasional voluntary canvassing efforts, and a brief uptick immediately prior to the passage of Right to Work legislation in Michigan in 2013. However, following increasing calls from the membership, this past year GEO distributed an online survey to gauge members’ (current) preferences for electoral involvement. Respondents (N=214 as of 7/17/18) overwhelmingly agreed that they would like to see GEO provide information on, and where relevant, endorsements for local races, especially those that would directly impact our members.

In response to this feedback, GEO formed the Electoral Action Subcommittee, which then drafted an Electoral Involvement Procedure, which was ratified by the Stewards’ Council and quickly put into practice in preparation for important upcoming local races, including the UM board of regents election. The Electoral Involvement Procedure outlines three options for how GEO can engage with local electoral races: endorsement, cooperation, and education.

We strongly encourage high member participation in this new process of electoral involvement. Relevant procedures, practices, messaging and framing will all require regular, ongoing input from members in order to best reflect what we want out of our involvement in electoral politics. We welcome all members to join the Electoral Action Subcommittee, which meets Wednesdays from 1:30-2:30 in the GEO office, 339 E. Liberty St, Ste. 340. Members can also participate in this important work by talking to their stewards and attending GMMs. We also strongly encourage members to become and remain engaged in local politics not only during but after elections! Endorsements require citizen accountability in order to produce the best effects for our members and the broader community.