University of Michigan graduate student strike reaches sixth week

The University of Michigan graduate students are striking for an increase in their salary to $58 per hour, the elimination of medical co-pays, and ‘as much parental leave as faculty.’

University spokesperson Kim Broekhuizen told Campus Reform that the school is willing to negotiate, but ‘real bargaining requires real compromise.’

After over six weeks, there appears to be no end in sight for the Graduate Employee Organization (GEO) strike at the University of Michigan (UM).

The GEO launched the strike on March 29 after beginning to pressure the university for a “living wage” in November 2022. Graduate student workers at UM currently earn $35 per hour in addition to nearly $13,000 in tuition remittance per semester for in-state students and over $26,000 per semester for out-of-state students.

By contrast, the average hourly wage in Ann Arbor is $28 per hour according to Zip Recruiter. The university also notes that the MIT Living Wage Calculator estimates $18.67 per hour is a living wage in the city.

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UM has proposed an agreement to raise the GEO hourly wage to $39 by the third year of the contract, but the GEO is insisting that the hourly wage be raised to $58 by 2026, which is 210% over the living wage in the area. The average college graduate in the United States earns $20 per hour, according to Zip Recruiter.

A variety of other proposed changes are listed in the 2022-2023 GEO Bargaining Platform including, the establishment of a “community-led unarmed emergency response team,” eliminating copays for mental healthcare and dental screenings, and providing “as much parental leave as faculty” to graduate student workers. The university has not assented to any of these terms.

Campus Reform has covered several university systems that have experienced graduate student worker strikes, including the University of California (UC) system and Temple University.

The situation at UM is more complicated, however, because of the anti-striking provision of the current GEO contract.

On April 17, Administrative Law Judge for the state of Michigan David Peltz ruled that the GEO violated its contract by initiating the strike and is currently engaging in unfair labor practices.

Peltz explained in his decision, “The undisputed facts establish that the GEO engaged in conduct wholly inconsistent with its obligations under the contract,” which explicitly prevents the GEO from engaging in any “concerted interference with the operation of the University.’”

University spokesperson and Director of Public Affairs Kim Broekhuizen did not respond to Campus Reform’s question regarding what consequences the GEO will face because of this contract violation but did stress that graduate students “should be paid a fair wage.”

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“We recognize the essential contributions of graduate student instructors and graduate staff assistants to our campus community,” Broekhuizen stated. 

Broekhuizen clarified that UM “remains ready, willing and eager to bargain with GEO over a compensation plan, but it requires movement from both sides. Real bargaining requires real compromise.”

Compromise, however, does not appear to be a central feature of the official GEO Bargaining Platform.

“If we don’t exert intense pressure on UM administration, UM will simply refuse to adopt our proposals, likely citing financial or practical concerns,” the document reads. “We can create pressure by taking collective action, which will demonstrate to UM that a majority of grad students are willing to advocate for each other as a united front.”

Although the university has proposed a daily schedule of bargaining, the GEO only committed to meeting on May 12 and 16 for continued negotiations. The official contract expired on May 3. 

The GEO has not responded to Campus Reform’s repeated request for comment since contract negotiations officially began in January. 

This is a developing story and will be updated accordingly.

Follow Gabrielle M. Etzel on Twitter.