On September 8th, the Graduate Employees Organization (GEO) at the University of Michigan went on strike. The main goal of the strike was for the University of Michigan to implement better guidelines to keep students and faculty protected from COVID-19, but there were also calls for cutting ties with ICE and defunding campus police.
According to the GEO president, Sumeet Patwardhan, just under 600 of the 2,100 members voted in favor of the strike. 100 were opposed and many other members were unavailable due to Labor Day weekend. The strike was originally set to last for 4 days, with an additional vote scheduled to decide if it would be extended for another week.
When asked why they were striking, the answers were the same across the board: to make campus a safe place for all students, especially those who are vulnerable to police brutality. Kathrine, a member of GEO from the Sociology department said “I’ve witnessed police brutality on campus. So any strike for a safe and just campus for all has to include anti-policing demands.”
By the second day of the strike there was an immense amount of support from both the University of Michigan and Ann Arbor communities. The residential assistants at the university also decided to go on strike, and began the process of unionizing. Additionally, multiple construction sites were temporarily shut down when workers decided to stand in solidarity with GEO, and many other local unions walked out in support of the strike.
On September 9th, the University of Michigan made an offer to GEO, but it was rejected because it didn’t substantially meet the demands they had as a union. GEO continued to withhold their labor and held picket lines across campus which were attended by not only GEO members but also faculty, undergraduates, and locals. Then, on September 14th, the University asked a court to order graduate students who were striking to return to work. Mark Schlissel, the president of the University of Michigan said, “I made the very difficult decision to seek help from the courts so we can resume all of our remote and in-person classes.” Bec, a GEO member who had been making daily TikToks about her experience on strike said “It is incredibly disheartening to know that this administration would rather go to court and sue its graduate workers than sit down and listen to our wants and needs as a union and a community and campus.”
On September 16th, the University of Michigan made the GEO another offer, this time, the GEO voted in an overwhelming majority to accept it, thus ending their work stoppage and strike. Despite accepting the offer, many members of the GEO didn’t feel that it sufficiently met their demands. “I’m going to be angry for the next four years about this, but I’m also going to keep fighting and I hope that you guys will continue to join me in this fight,” said Bec.