News Story

Cancel The Illegal 'Historic Abolitionist' Strike: U-M Grad Employees Return To Work

Demands included 'cut all ties with police' - and letting grad student instructors work from home

The union representing University of Michigan graduate student instructors and assistants voted overwhelmingly Wednesday night to end what it called a ten-day “abolitionist strike for a safe and just campus.”

In a statement, the 2,000-member Graduate Employees’ Organization reported the strike had “forced the university to give us an offer with substantive progress” on a laundry list of demands over COVID-19 concerns and calls to disarm, demilitarize and defund campus police, according to the Detroit Free Press.

But it wasn’t clear how the offer accepted by the union Wednesday differed substantively from the one overwhelmingly rejected three days earlier by its membership, which made modest COVID-related concessions and would include the union in campus-wide discussions about law enforcement.

Another factor may have been a lawsuit filed by the university seeking a restraining order against a government employee strike because it violates state law and would cause irreparable harm to the university and its students. The suit also noted the work stoppage was a violation of the union’s contract.

In addition, U-M argued that some of the union demands — e.g. that it “cut all ties with police” — were not subject to union bargaining.

The university agreed to drop the lawsuit in return for union members getting back to work.

The strike disrupted the reopening of a fall semester already severely complicated by restrictions imposed in the wake of the coronavirus pandemic.

About 90% of all U-M undergraduates are enrolled in at least one course taught at least in part by a graduate assistant, university officials said.

And nearly 80% of undergraduate courses are being conducted online to minimize physical contact between students and staff.

The union had demanded that all grad assistants be allowed to “work remotely without documentation” (of medical necessity).

The strike settlement does not provide a blanket exemption from classroom instruction, but it does provide procedures for the grad students to seek relief.

It also permits grad assistants and instructors to immediately cancel class if a student declines to wear a face covering. The strike received well-publicized support from some student and faculty groups, which said the university had not been transparent and inclusive in the development of its anti-COVID protocols.

But the strikers’ emphasis on law enforcement-related issues, and making the work stoppage part of a “historic abolitionist” undertaking, generated pushback in online forums.

At times, the discussions became indistinguishable from social media flame throwing over recent demonstrations and riots.

On one U-M Facebook forum, a poster stated: “If we have an active shooter on campus I sure hope Ann Arbor police and UM security have guns to protect all (faculty), students and visitors.”

Replies to that post included: “Can you imagine how so many people’s lives have been ended or traumatized because all too often the police have been the active shooters or agitators without consequence?”

The parent of a U-M undergrad interviewed by Michigan Capitol Confidential, who declined to be identified out of fear of retaliation, characterized the work stoppage as unnecessary and disruptive.

The university’s COVID protocols appear to be thorough and adequate, she said, adding that her son and his classmates are “very comfortable being back” on campus.

She was especially critical of the union’s anti-law enforcement agenda.

“It’s not okay to disrupt learning that is already being disrupted by COVID over an issue that isn’t really a union issue,” she said.

Union officials did not respond to an email seeking comment and clarification about what had been achieved by the work stoppage.

Michigan Capitol Confidential is the news source produced by the Mackinac Center for Public Policy. Michigan Capitol Confidential reports with a free-market news perspective.