The University of Michigan’s Graduate Employees' Organization (GEO) began striking Mar. 29 following five months of negotiations, The Detroit News reported.
A GEO rally took place on campus Wednesday morning, with hundreds of students, undergraduate and graduate, in attendance. GEO represents approximately 2,300 graduate student instructors and staff assistants.
The current contract expires May 1. Union demands include $38,542 base salaries; harassment protections; an emergency fund for international workers; a community-based, non-violent, unarmed response program separate from the Division of Public Safety; child care subsidies; and more accessible gender-affirming care.
"There still remain barriers between them (transgender students) and receiving that care," Fleischmann said. "So there is some really onerous documentation that you need to submit that you wouldn't need to submit for any other kinds of health care and limits on the number of sessions for voice therapy and things like that, that we're trying to get rid of."
Union leaders have asked students not to cross picket lines for classes nor do work that would be done by someone on strike. Yet, many students seemed to be attending classes.
"We'll be out here every weekday until we get what we deserve," said Ember McCoy, a graduate student in the School for Environment and Sustainability. "We the graduate workers, the second largest body of instructors after tenure track faculty, we can't afford our rent, our medical bills, our groceries, a $500 emergency or a trip home."
UMich spokesman Rick Fitzgerald said that the school has filed an unfair labor practice charge against GEO with the Michigan Employment Relations Commission to stop the strike.
The strike is in violation of the current GEO contract and Michigan law that bars public employees from striking, Fitzgerald said, something that the GEO acknowledges.
"We strongly believe the best place to resolve differences is at the bargaining table," Fitzgerald said in an email. "Our focus remains on continuing instruction for our students and achieving an agreement with GEO through the negotiation process. The next bargaining session is scheduled for Friday, and the university remains ready to meet at any time."
The GEO has also filed unfair labor practice charges against UMich because the school has refused to bargain over mandatory subjects and has withheld essential information, said graduate student Amir Fleischmann.