Strike ends at U of Michigan by graduate student workers

Union raised COVID working conditions and defunding campus policing



By Detroit Fighting Words Staff

On Tuesday, Sept. 8, the Graduate Employees Organization (GEO), AFT Local 3550, went on strike against the University of Michigan, demanding increased COVID-19 protections, including the right to work remotely and more transparency in opening. The union also called for defunding of the campus police and no cooperation with ICE.

The initial strike authorization was for four days, but after only two days, GEO membership rejected the University’s offer and voted to “remain on strike for demands calling for a safe and just campus,” according to a Sept. 9 GEO press release.

On Wednesday, dormitory Resident Staff went on strike over COVID-19 protections. The IBEW and Teamsters honored GEO picket lines, halting construction at several sites on campus.

As the strike entered a second week, the University went to Washtenaw County Circuit Court seeking an injunction against the union and threatening to sue striking workers individually.

On Wednesday, Sept. 16, the GEO membership voted to end the strike. According to a GEO press 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.

“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.”

The GEO press release continued,

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.

“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.”

As of Sunday, Sept. 20, the University Resident Staff are still on strike over COVID-19 safety demands including regular testing, sufficient PPE, face coverings, and enforcement of social distancing.

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