GEO COVID-19 Caucus Statement on Stay-in-Place Order issued 20 October 2020

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE

Ann Arbor, MI—Washtenaw County’s recent stay-in-place order for U-M undergraduate students is an ineffective and last-minute attempt to stop a wholly preventable COVID-19 outbreak on campus, caused by U-M’s inadequate and unsafe reopening plan. This is two months too late! We deserve better. 

GEO and allies across campus, including ResStaff student workers, MDining student workers, Central Student Government, Students Demand Representation, and others, sounded the alarm about these dangerous conditions since May. This stay at home order is coming after months of dismissive responses to campus groups who were alarmed and concerned about the fall term; after numerous stories being shared on unsafe conditions students, faculty, and staff were abandoned to survive COVID-19 without the support of a multi-billion dollar institution: 1 [domestic violence and failed response], 2 [gaslighting and retaliation of staff], 3 [lack of parental support], 4 [staff member questions university’s priorities], 5 [August 28th Concerns on Re-Opening Plans by GEO & LEO], 6 [1966 alumni speaks out]; after the vote of no confidence in President Mark Schlissel by the SACUA on September 16th in his leadership and response to the pandemic; and after GEO’s two-week strike (September 8th-16th). However, rather than engage in productive dialogue or rethink the reopening plan, the university used bullying tactics to silence us by threatening to sue our union out of existence if we did not accept their offer. 

In August, 2% of Washtenaw County COVID-19 cases were related to U-M; now 61% of them are tied to the university. The Washtenaw County Health Department has finally stepped in to force U-M’s hand to take swift action. This stay-in-place order supports what students, faculty, and staff have been saying since May: that the plans that were developed and then implemented were not enough to avoid a crisis on U-M’s Ann Arbor campus.

But we don’t want to be right—we want to be safe.

This stay-at-home order bypasses many of the unsafe conditions at U-M; it includes myriad exceptions and seems to only be targeting undergraduate students partying. This order does not prevent the university from insisting, as it has been doing for months, that its student athletes and student workers risk their health for the university’s bottom line. The administration has continuously promised since September 17 that its weekly testing capacity would reach 6,000 by the end of October. According to the U-M COVID-19 Dashboard, weekly testing reached about 5,700. However, it has become abundantly clear that this is not enough. 

The University of Michigan, “the leaders and the best,” has shown that they are unable to follow through on even the basic promise of testing. A myriad of testimonials has demonstrated that students currently need to seek outside testing due to the refusal of UHS to provide a test and the subsequent backlog across community providers. Based on the troubling inadequacy of testing, the proposed process requiring undergraduates to be tested before returning home is very concerning. A larger concern, however, is the continued narrative that in-person classes and activities are not a cause for increased risk and exposure. While many classes are urged to shift to fully remote, President Schlissel’s email indicated that “classes that are substantially enhanced by in-person instruction” will continue to be held in person. We question the metrics by which this will be judged, how and by whom this call will be made, and whether this substantial enhancement is really a higher priority than community safety.

Even now that the stay-in-place order has been issued, the recent spikes and clusters forming in university housing could continue to increase. This is even more concerning given that students are now being quarantined in residential housing in Northwood alongside healthy students and their families. While this is all happening, Maize and Blueprint is claiming that quarantine housing capacity has not yet exceeded 60%, indicating one of two alarming scenarios: either the numbers are much higher than is reflected publicly, or there were always plans to use regular-term residential housing for quarantine and isolation.

GEO remains concerned about enforcement of this ban on social gatherings. After the failed attempt of U-M’s Ambassador Program, enforcement for public health code violations can be up to a $200 fine and 90 days in jail, according to today’s release, though the promise has been made that first steps will include education and engagement rather than punishment. We are concerned to hear in today’s briefing that well over 1,000 individual citations for  violations have been issued, and that these are  being cast as restorative practices. Despite the citations, we have only seen the numbers climb. Will they continue to climb? Will education and engagement stop the spread? It is time to acknowledge that “individual, uninformed students behaving badly” are not the specters administrators claim they are; at some point we must consider that the university was in the perfect position to understand student life but created the structural realities that led to these devastating outcomes. A plan that relies on 100% compliance to be successful, with no room for contingency, is unsafe, irresponsible, and doomed to fail. 

Despite tonight’s hurriedly-arranged briefing with top administrators, which served to reiterate this afternoon’s flurry of emails, this community still has doubts about the university’s commitment to protecting student workers, the poor communication of the details of campus-related  COVID cases, and the struggles facing many undergraduates who are scared, unable to get tested, and unsure where to turn for help. 

GEO is committed to continue working with and for our campus and off-campus communities. We plan to continue our work on advocating on behalf of all students, faculty, and staff. We are deeply saddened and frustrated as more and more of our undergraduate students, university staff, and health care workers and officials are forced to bear the consequences of U-M’s failed reopening plans.   

Press Contact

Leah Bernardo-Ciddio and Cassandra Euphrat Weston, Communications Co-Chairs

commchair@geo3550.org  

GEO/U-M Strike Resolution Agreement

Offer Text and Background

On September 16, 2020, GEO members voted to accept an offer from U-M under the threat of injunction and end our strike for a safe and just campus. 1,074 GEO members voted to accept the university’s offer, 239 members voted to reject it, and 66 abstained.

You can read the full text of the final offer in PDF form here.

What We Won

This isn’t the offer we wanted; it isn’t the offer we — and all of the U-M community — deserved. But in the face of the University’s threats and bullying, GEO’s 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. Two days after GEO accepted this offer, the University announced an end to the Michigan Ambassador program all together.

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.

What Comes Next

GEO is still fighting. We’re standing shoulder to shoulder with undergraduate resident assistants, who have reached a deal with the university, and MDining workers, who have not, in both of their ongoing and courageous struggles for safe working conditions. We’re going to hold the University’s new policing task force accountable for enacting substantive, ongoing change in campus policing. We’re continuing to support our members in grieving individual health and safety violations.

Members, check your email and follow GEO on Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram for updates about ongoing organizing and how you can join in. Together, we’ll keep fighting for a safe and just campus for all.

Statement on Breonna Taylor Grand Jury Decisions

The Solidarity and Political Action Committee of GEO would like to express deep anger and disappointment at the recent judgement in the murder of Breonna Taylor by three policemen in her own home.

People of color, especially Black people, in this country have been shown time and time again that their lives do not matter. The state and the structurally racist society has shown incessantly that Black lives are mere numbers that keep adding to a statistic or become collateral damage in times of war and peace, in the war on drugs, and during a pandemic. The state in all its forms and institutions, the police, the judiciary, at every step demonstrate to its population that our lives do not matter. We at SPAC want to affirm that Black lives matter. We affirm their identities and names, they are not mere numbers that we will stand by and see stacked up one after another with no accountability, no justice. Within this year alone, to only name a few, with the murders of Ahmaud Arbery, Breonna Taylor, and George Floyd, the militarized police state only seems to be getting bolder. It continues to enjoy impunity from across institutions and centers of power, despite waves of protests and uprisings that it has seen from a people that are sick and tired of the unaccountability with which this racial capitalist state operates. 

For us at GEO SPAC, listening to another news of policemen being let off the hook for murder especially hits hard in light of our own struggle against a police department that not only let the policeman who shot and killed Aura Rosser in 2014, walk free but also promoted him. Our own recent 7 day strike and ongoing struggle to defund and demilitarize the campus police and for the university to cut ties with AAPD takes on a new significance in the light of this latest judgement where militarized police can walk off with impunity after murdering a Black woman inside her own home.

GEO Ends Historic Strike; Forces Progress on COVID, Policing Demands

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. 

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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

GEO Membership Votes to Extend Historic Strike for a Safe and Just Campus

On Sunday night, members of Graduate Employees’ Organization 3550 (GEO) at the University of Michigan voted to extend their historic, abolitionist strike for a safe and just campus for an additional five days, starting at 12:00 AM on Monday, September 14. 80% of those who voted, and 66% of all GEO members in the bargaining unit, voted to extend the strike.

Membership overwhelmingly rejected the university’s initial offer last week that did not constitute continued progress on our demands. In particular, the university’s offer constituted zero progress on our policing demands. These are not optional; they are integral to our vision of a safe and just campus for our Black and brown members, colleagues, students, and community members, in solidarity with and indebted to this summer’s national uprisings for racial justice and the long history of struggles against white supremacy in Washtenaw County, Detroit, and Southeast Michigan.

Membership initially authorized a four-day work stoppage from September 8 through September 11, with potential for reauthorization, until the university issued 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). 

GEO’s strike is shutting down the University’s unsafe and unjust operations in the collective emergency of the global pandemic. Last week, Residential Staff joined GEO on strike and MDining workers held a slow-down and continued planning a walkout. Undergraduates, faculty, alumni, staff, parents, community members, and  have joined our picket lines and issued their own demands for a safe and just campus. GEO leadership is in continued talks with University administration to address our demands. Until then, GEO members will continue to withhold our labor to insist that the University create safe and just working and learning conditions for all.

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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