Striking U-M grad workers shut down construction site in bid for fair wages

On Thursday striking University of Michigan graduate student instructors got a burst of support after targeting a construction site.

"Grad workers picketed outside a construction site for the Michigan Medicine Pavilion and we shut it down," said Amir Fleischmann. "The construction workers and the skilled trades refused to cross our picket lines.

"This is a billion-dollar constitution site costing the university big money everyday it’s shut down, and today it’s not moving at all."

University leadership was not pleased with the Graduate Employees' Org's tactics.

"We’re certainly disappointed that the union, the GEO, would target the construction of a new hospital designed to save lives and any delay is a critical delay," said Rick Fitzgerald, U-M.

The university also disappointed at how much disruption the strike has caused.

"GEO specifically targeted the end of the term, the last weeks of classes," Fitzgerald said. "(We're) now in final exams, they are asking professors to not submit grades."

Fleischmann, the chair of the GEO Contract Committee and member of the bargaining team, makes no apologies.

"A strike is supposed to be disruptive and it most certainly is," he said.

The graduate workers have been on strike for several weeks and in negotiations with the university since last November.

The union says although they have made some adjustments to some of their requests there is one thing they will not adjust.

"The university may come in with some fake offer that they are going to move from, but our offer has always been a living wage," Fleischmann said. "It’s what it costs to live in Ann Arbor.

"Members are not willing to back down, because they need that much money to make rent and to afford child care."

"I think that the GEO is going to have to bargain on salary they haven’t changed since their demand of 60% in November," Fitzgerald said.  "And we all know that collective bargaining is about finding common ground."

Both sides will resume negotiations on Friday and as many students are wrapping up the semester - and they want to see a resolution before they return to campus.