By Dawn Wolfe
ANN ARBOR – From 6 a.m. to 6 p.m. on March 24, members of UofM’s Graduate Educator’s Organization joined undergraduates, union members from several unions and other parts of the country and sympathetic faculty in a day-long strike of the university.
Strike issues include insurance co-pays, the university’s refusal to allow graduate employees to name a designated beneficiary rather than a spouse or domestic partner on health care coverage, and the university’s refusal to change its MCare program to provide transgender-related health care coverage.
The strike was successful enough to cause a near-miracle in parking-starved Ann Arbor, according to lead GEO Negotiator Andre Wilson.
“Not only did I have no trouble finding a parking space, most of the parking spaces were open at 10:30 a.m.,” said Wilson.
GEO President David Dobbie agreed. “I think my estimate would be between 600-700 out on the [picket] lines all day,” he said.
UofM spokesperson Julie Peterson said that the walkout “shortchanges our undergraduate students.”
“The university in these bargaining sessions has made a number of proposals to the union that would significantly improve compensation and working conditions from the last contract,” she added, while saying the remaining issues are “pretty serious sticking points.”
Strike participants weren’t limited to immediate members of the UofM community. In addition to the graduate students, undergrads and faculty who participated, Dobbie said that strikers included “people from unions all over the state – as well as some people [that] came in from Wisconsin and Chicago…Ohio, places like that.”
The GEO walkout also drew prominent union and LGBT activists. According to Wilson, “The director of National Pride at Work, Jeremy Bishop, has been picketing with us, and we’ve also had David Hecker, President of the Michigan Federation of Teachers and School-Related Personnel.”
Wilson called the one-day walkout “a warning sign to the administration,” and added that, if there is no movement on the union’s six primary issues, “an open-ended strike has been authorized beginning April 4.”
According to Peterson, “Obviously we are quite concerned about a strike, which would really cheat our undergraduate students. We don’t think it’s necessary in order for GEO to get a fair contract.”
That concern was demonstrated at the bargaining table March 25. According to Wilson, the union and the administration had come to an agreement on a more thorough definition of the word “discrimination” as it appears in the contract and “on most of the non-economic and smaller economic issues.” Talks on March 28 were to center on the major economic issues and health care, including the transgender health care and designated beneficiary proposals. GEO members will meet on March 30 and again on April 3 to evaluate progress and make a final decision on the necessity of an April 4 strike.
Asked whether the union as a whole is as firm in its support of the transgender-related issues as it is of the other issues on the table, Wilson responded, “We understand in this union that an injury to one is an injury to all, and we don’t prioritize our issues in that way.”
For more information, or to lend your support to GEO’s efforts to provide health care for its transgender members and protect benefits for same-sex partners, contact GEO or UofM’s President, Mary Sue Coleman.
GEO: 734-995-0221; email: [email protected]; or on the web at www.umgeo.org.
University President Mary Sue Coleman: 734-764-6270; email: [email protected]