GEO Statement following Work Stoppage Ballot Results: Membership Authorizes Walk-Out over Pandemic and Policing Demands

September 7, 2020 — This past weekend, members of GEO’s bargaining unit – currently employed Graduate Student Instructors (GSIs) and Graduate Student Staff Assistants (GSSAs) – voted overwhelmingly to authorize GEO leadership to call a strike. 79 percent of voters voted yes on our work stoppage. GEO members will withhold their labor effective Tuesday, September 8th, 2020 at 12:00 am, encouraging our allies to do the same in solidarity and to join us on in-person and remote picket lines. This is an historic moment; GEO membership has voted to strike in the middle of a pandemic at the beginning of the academic year, and is prepared to withhold our labor in pursuit of a safe and just campus for all. 

GEO has been organizing through the summer around a set of demands that reflected the concerns of our members and the wider community. The demands were presented in an open letter to University of Michigan administrators, which was signed by over 1,800 graduate workers and community members. Administration issued an insubstantial reply in response. Through the summer, we have continued to hold multiple rallies, meetings, and impact bargaining sessions in an attempt to ensure the University of Michigan takes the necessary, crucial steps to protecting this community. Even as news has emerged from various reopening campuses in the last weeks, and even as U-M’s own Ethics and Privacy Committee issued multiple warnings about the risks posed by campus reopening, our demands have gone unaddressed.

GEO membership is now taking a stand. Leadership will announce a four-day work stoppage today, with potential for reauthorization, until the university issues an offer that adequately addresses our concerns about:

  • transparent and robust testing, contact tracing, and safety plans for campus;
  • support for GSIs working remotely and an option to switch to remote from hybrid/ in-person;
  • flexible subsidies for parents and caregivers including those with school-aged children or care obligations for adults;
  • better International Center support for international students and the repealing of the discriminatory, termly international student fee;
  • unconditional support for all graduate students in the form of timeline and funding extensions, an emergency grant, and flexible leases and rent freezes at U-M housing.
  • a demilitarized workplace
  • diversion of funds from campus police (involving a cut of 50% to DPSS’ annual budget)
  • and ending any and all ties to local law enforcement (AAPD) and other agencies (ICE). 

In GEO’s last contract campaign this spring, we demanded disarming and demilitarizing campus police, which the university refused to bargain over. We highlight that GEO views our anti-policing demands as inseparable from our COVID demands. They are linked explicitly, through the University’s decision to expand the policing of our community in a perverse effort to enforce social distancing, and implicitly, through the ways the crises of the pandemic and racist policing both disproportionately affect the most vulnerable among us. Policing and surveillance are not “public health-informed”; they are harmful to physical and mental health. Increased police presence on campus and in the wider community will further jeopardize the safety of Black and brown graduate workers, students, faculty, staff, and community members in the midst of a pandemic that is already disproportionately ravaging Black and brown communities.

The University has again refused to bargain over these policing-related demands in our current impact bargaining negotiations, claiming that they are not relevant to University COVID-19 policies. GEO membership’s commitment to including anti-policing demands in our current stoppage platform demonstrates how urgent and linked our membership’s priorities are. The university administration has run roughshod over the lives of the community’s most vulnerable. The GEO strike coincides and stands in solidarity with #ScholarStrike for Black Lives announced by Prof. Anthea Butler of the University of Pennsylvania. GEO has also called on faculty to cancel regular classes for the duration of both strikes; we support the continued scheduling of teach-ins as part of the Scholar Strike. 

GEO will hold an emergency general membership meeting this evening to discuss next steps and any new offers from the university.

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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. 

Press Contact: commchair@geo3550.org Leah Bernardo-Ciddio and Cassandra Euphrat Weston
Co-Chairs, Communications CommitteeGraduate Employees’ Organization

Statement on Work Stoppage Ballot

September 5, 2020 — Union leadership is in consensus: The time for a strike is now

Our campus is in an uproar. Undergraduates and faculty are mobilizing against the administration, who are more unpopular than they’ve ever been. Other groups on campus are looking to GEO for leadership in the fight for a safe and just campus reopening.

Our demandsfor robust testing, the unconditional option to teach remotely, for fewer cops on campus, for protections for international students and parents/caregivers, and for degree timeline & funding extensions – are more relevant and important than ever. We have the momentum to pull off a potentially historic labor action, and to play a small part in the uprisings against police violence and racism going on all over the country. 

A strike always carries risks, particularly in such unprecedented conditions. However, the officers of this union believe that the current situation reduces such risks – particularly the National American Federation of Teachers’ strike authorization, the widespread support of undergraduate students and faculty, and the unpopularity of the University’s reopening plans. Indeed, we feel that not striking puts our most vulnerable siblings at far greater risk

Given the favorability of these conditions, we the officers of this union strongly recommend voting to strike.

GEO’S Demands for A Safe and Just Pandemic Response for All

COVID-19 Demands

  • For the whole community, sufficient, transparent, robust plans for testing, contact tracing, and campus safety.
  • For graduate employees, a universal right to work remotely without documentation, resources for remote work, better representation in the decision-making processes of the university surrounding health measures, and access to the health models motivating current policy.
  • For parents and caregivers, care subsidy regardless of a care provider’s license status and location and the age of those who need care; allow for healthcare plans to be maintained and available even during leaves of absence taken by anyone, at no extra cost
  • For international students, better International Center support and the repeal of the $500 international student fee and document shipping fee.
  • For graduate students, unconditional support in the form of extensions to degree timelines and funding, a $2,500 unconditional emergency grant, rent freezes and flexible leases for on-campus housing.

Anti-Policing Demands 

  • Access to a disarmed and demilitarized workplace, where lethal weapons are prohibited, our security services do not receive military funding, there is transparency around the use of surveillance technology, there is a standard of force for campus police, and no one faces retaliation for being unable to work due to police presence.
  • The defunding of the Division of Public Safety and Security (DPSS), involving a cut of 50% of their annual budget and a reallocation of the funds to community-based justice initiatives.
  • Finally, we demand U-M cut all ties with police, including Ann Arbor Police Department (AAPD) and Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE).

GEO Statement on AAPD-University of Michigan Partnership

White Supremacy is Not a Safe and Just Pandemic Response for All

August 25, 2020 — On Thursday, the Ann Arbor Police Department (AAPD) announced they will partner with the University of Michigan to police student gatherings in the coming semester in the name of public health.

Policing and surveillance are not “public health informed”; they are harmful to physical and mental health. Increased police presence on campus and in the wider community will further jeopardize the safety of Black and brown graduate workers, students, faculty, staff, and community members in the midst of a pandemic that is already disproportionately ravaging Black and brown communities. Further, the decision to increase campus police presence blatantly undermines the University’s stated commitments to racial justice in response to this summer’s surge of Black Lives Matter protests. A safe and just pandemic response for all requires robust plans for testing, guaranteed remote work options, support for caregivers and international students, and financial security for all — not overt partnerships with white supremacy.

In GEO’s last contract campaign this spring, we demanded disarming and demilitarizing campus police, which the university refused to bargain over. GEO continues to organize around a demilitarized workplace, diverting funds from campus police, and ending ties to local law enforcement. The University has again refused to bargain over these demands in our current impact bargaining negotiations, claiming that they are not relevant to University COVID-19 policies, but Thursday’s announcement shows how urgent and linked our membership’s priorities are.

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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. 

Press Contact: commchair@geo3550.org 
Leah Bernardo-Ciddio and Cassandra Euphrat Weston
Co-Chairs, Communications Committee
Graduate Employees’ Organization 3550

Impact Bargaining Update 8/18/2020

What is “impact bargaining”? Why is GEO doing it? Learn more here.


At last Thursday’s bargaining session (8/13), our bargaining team passed the request for randomized testing and openness about the University’s research modeling on the effectiveness of their safety measures. If we can’t know the University’s reasoning behind the decision to have an in-person semester, how can we know that employees are being kept safe? We believe that open communication about this is paramount.

While U-M rejected our proposal for a contractual, universal remote work option, productive discussions are continuing with Academic HR on this crucial subject, and we will fight to protect our members’ right to a safe workplace. As we understand from the University, most of our members’ requests for remote work are being accommodated. This means that GEO is in a good position to devote strong and individualized advocacy efforts towards addressing your concerns if your request has not been accommodated. We need to know if this is the case.

Per Article XI, Section G, no Employee will be required to act in a manner which constitutes a health or safety hazard in their employment relationship. If you are of the conviction that your in-person work assignment constitutes a health and safety hazard, then we take that very seriously, and we will avail these contractual measures to initiate efforts with HR on your behalf as soon as possible. Classes start in two weeks, which is a very limited timeframe. The sooner your concerns are brought forward, the better we can address those concerns quickly and effectively. 

Cases involving high risk health conditions and childcare needs are being prioritized, and international GSI’s are working remotely to the greatest extent possible. If you fall into one of these categories and your request for remote work has not been granted, please let us know and we will urgently advance your case to the greatest extent possible. And even if you aren’t at high risk, or have additional needs as either a parent or international student, we want to hear from you.

If you have concerns about your in-person/hybrid work assignment and would rather work remotely if you were given the option, then please fill out this form.