University of Michigan
University of Michigan. (iStock)

U-M GEO accepts University offer, giving into some COVID and policing demands

“A small, but significant step.”

After striking since September 8, University of Michigan’s Graduate Employee Organization (GEO) membership voted on Wednesday to accept the University’s second offer to their demands and end the strike “for a safe and just campus amid a global pandemic”. GEO members and supporters will now return to regular work duties.

“The university gave us another offer,” U-M GEO Secretary Amir Fleischmann told the JN. “It’s worth noting that the previous offer we rejected a week ago, they told us was an exploding offer, meaning we wouldn’t be getting another one if we rejected it. But they actually were compelled to give us another offer.”

The University gave into some of both parts of GEO’s demands, COVID-19 and policing, which GEO summarized in a statement on Wednesday night,

“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,” the statement said.

A full summary of the offer will be available on GEO’s website shortly.

“This is the first time they’ve actually agreed to bargain with us over policing, which up until now, they refused to do at all,” Fleischmann told the JN. “This is a baby step towards hopefully something bigger down the line. They’ve now admitted that policing is something that they have to talk to us about.”

U-M Spokesperson Rick Fitzgerald spoke to the JN regarding the outcome.

“We’re pleased that GEO overwhelmingly ratified the agreement because it’s really important to get their members back in the classroom and attending to the needs of our undergraduate students,” Fitzgerald said. “That was our goal throughout this process, to get the GEO members back in the classroom.”

According to GEO, it was the 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.

Another watershed moment of the strike on Wednesday was the U-M Faculty Senate’s vote of confidence or no confidence in U-M President Mark Schlissel, which Fleischmann is not actually certain if the vote of confidence is final. According to Fleischmann, while there were more votes in favor of the no confidence motion than against it (957-953), there were also 184 abstentions, which kept it from the needed simple majority and what Fleischmann says were all counted as confidence votes.

“It’s not actually clear to me that the faculty rejected the no-confidence vote,” Fleischmann said. “Of course that’s not really how abstentions work. I’ve heard that the decision is being changed, I’m not really sure where it landed, but it’s not clear to me that they rejected the no confidence vote.”

U-M Faculty Senate could not be reached for comment at time of publication.

Regardless of the accepted offer, GEO and Fleischmann are still concerned about the state of U-M.

“I think the situation at the University is fairly dire,” Fleischmann said. “I think the COVID policy is a ticking time bomb. We’ve seen what happened at the University of Wisconsin-Madison, where they had like 1,700 cases in the first five days. I think it’s only a matter of time until the same happens here.”

Fleischmann found it very disappointing that the faculty did not come out more strongly against Schlissel and his reopening plans, but knows the strike and outcome show positive progress.

“The struggle continues,” Fleischmann said. “I think our membership increased by 15% since the strike began. Members want a union that takes a strong stance against racism and stands up for their workers against egregious safety violations, and that’s what we have. We now have a much stronger union, with an energized membership that’s going to keep fighting for these very important issues, and hopefully make some real change at this University.”

“A small, but significant step.”

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