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 demands – for 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.
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.
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).
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 increasecampus 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.
### 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.
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.
On August 6, 2020, following an initial session on parameter-setting, GEO’s bargaining team met with HR to discuss a number of proposals centered on mandatory subjects of bargaining, i.e. the health and safety of our workers.
In response to our proposal that no graduate employees should be required by the administration to report to campus as part of their job duties, as COVID-exposure poses a significant threat to the health and safety in the workplace (a mandatory subject of bargaining), HR expressed some of the University’s current thinking about in-person work. They communicated three reasons why the University does not guarantee remote work for all graduate employees. These reasons include (i) their goal to deliver an in-residence semester, (ii) their management rights, and (iii) pedagogical necessity. Yet given the risk environment at this time, and in the event of a campus outbreak, this poses an unacceptable danger of severe workplace injuries (such as hospitalization due to infection) to graduate employees. Governor Whitmer’s executive order 2020-160, Section 1, “Remote work. Any work that is capable of being performed remotely (i.e.,
without the worker leaving his or her home or place of residence) must be performed remotely” still applies to Ann Arbor (located in MDHHS Region 2S). Requiring GSIs to conduct a course in-person for extraneous reasons (such as
“providing an in-residence experience”) when that course can be done remotely would directly contradict this directive. We will be seeking further clarification from the University on this matter. Additionally, and in general, the University’s management rights do not supersede our right to a safe workplace.
We are also proposing that the ability to conduct in-person should work not be used as a factor in current and future hiring decisions, as this type of discrimination would implicates a number of impermissible factors (the protection of which in hiring is a mandatory subject of bargaining), including but not limited to medical conditions, age, weight, HIV antibody status, and genetic information. Further, we propose increasing protections related to face-covering policies. For example, if an employee does elect to work in-person, we want extra masks to be readily available in case individuals in the classroom forget to wear one coming in. We propose an employee has the right to require that any individual who refuses to wear a mask must leave the physical classroom. If they do not want to wear a mask in the classroom, we propose that
an employee should be allowed to tell a student they have to take the course online. Moreover, if an individual in the classroom fails to wear a mask and refuses to leave the classroom, we propose that the employee be permitted to
leave without retaliation, and to transition the class to a remote format to be able to conduct their work safely.
Through the course of the session, we were able to discuss in good faith, and are fully confident that we will continue to make good progress. GEO values the collaborative approach to problem-solving we’ve developed with HR. We have achieved productive ends in the past, and look forward to achieving measures that will safeguard our member’s health going forward into the Fall.