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Graduate Students End Strike at U of Michigan

September 18, 2020
 
 

The graduate students’ union at the University of Michigan announced Thursday that they would be ending their strike. Graduate students had been engaging in a work stoppage -- meaning not teaching, grading, researching or doing other university labor -- since Sept. 8. The union had previously said its demands included more robust COVID-19 testing and tracing, the option for graduate students to teach in the modality of their choice, subsidies for student parents and caregivers, increased support for international students, and a number of antipolicing demands, such as disarming and diverting funds from campus police.

The union, which is affiliated with the American Federation of Teachers, accepted an offer from the university on Wednesday night. This was the second offer to be brought to membership after the last proposal was rejected.

It is illegal for public employees to strike in the state of Michigan, and the union had a “no-strike” clause in its university contract. The administration had previously filed an unfair labor practice charge against the union and went to court to seek a preliminary injunction and temporary restraining order against the strike. If granted, the injunction could have resulted in strikers being held in contempt of court and the union paying civil damages.

Membership voted to end the strike 1,074 to 239 with 66 members abstaining.

The union responded to the vote by highlighting the concessions it won from the university, but also lamenting the fact the strike was cut short by the injunction.

“In the face of the university’s threats and bullying, our member power still won critical progress,” the union said in a press release. “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.”

That incremental movement on policing included a commitment from the university to form a task force that works with the undergraduate Students of Color Liberation Front and the union to issue a public report.

According to a university press release, the offer also included a revised process to address safety concerns for graduate instructors working on campus and a process to appeal those decisions.

“Thank you for the messages of congratulations. We want to make it clear though that this is how we feel about accepting an offer under threat of an injunction,” the union posted on Twitter, above an image of a cat sadly pressing a button that says “Accepting the offer.” “We are pretty tired and pretty angry!!”

The union also retweeted a reaction from a graduate student asking people not to congratulate her for the resolution.

“The offer was 100% garbage and we were forced to accept it or have our union destroyed,” she wrote.

Michigan resident assistants, who are not part of a union, are still on strike, and their demands include hazard pay, regular testing and personal protective equipment.

At a Faculty Senate meeting on Wednesday, a motion to vote no confidence in the university reopening plan narrowly failed. A motion to vote no confidence in President Mark Schlissel is still being reviewed, though a plurality of faculty voted in favor of it during the meeting.

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