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Injunction denied in UM grad student strike

GEO members on strike on the University of Michigan campus.
Colin Jackson
GEO members on strike on the University of Michigan campus.

The University of Michigan lost its bid to suspend a graduate student worker strike in court Monday.

U of M asked a Washtenaw County judge for a preliminary injunction to suspend the strike. The school argued it has caused irreparable harm because of canceled classes and uncertainty around grading.

Sounds from a grad student protest outside the courthouse bled through as university attorney Craig Schwartzdelivered his closing arguments.

He pointed to individual cases of learning disruptions.

“Huge courses, like Econ 101 with a thousand students who lose all instructional services and support provided by the [Graduate Student Instructors],” he said.

The strike began on March 29 after negotiations broke down between U of M and the Graduate Employees’ Organization.

The union argues the university could end the strike by coming to the bargaining table in good faith.

Union President Jared Eno said the university has been adversarial throughout the process.

“They have fought us on everything and mostly said no to things. We’ve really lacked kind of a problem-solving relationship with the university at the bargaining table. I hope that changes,” Eno told reporters after Monday’s hearing. He said negotiations are scheduled for every day this week through Friday.

The union’s current contract with the university doesn’t run out until May 1.

In court, Schwartz argued the decision to strike over the upcoming contract was illegal under the current agreement.

“If the union is permitted to repudiate the contract at will and not fulfill its most important obligation under the collective bargaining agreement, then we have a destruction of the collective bargaining relationship,” Schwartz said.

The university brought up eight witnesses, including Eno, throughout the more than six-hour hearing. At its close, Judge Carol Kuhnke said she’s not sure the university could have brought up better evidence than it did but that it simply didn’t rise to the level of “irreparable harm.”

Last week, Kuhnke denied U of M'S request for a temporary restraining order in the strike.

Eno said he thinks the university has been relying on the courts as a way around good faith negotiations.

“I hope that this finally shows the university that they should work with us to collaboratively solve the serious problems that we brought to the table that grad workers are facing that are not only making a lot of hardship for grad workers but also meaning that we can’t do the best we can for our students,” Eno said.

U of M did not make anyone available to directly respond to the decision but shared the following written statement:

“While we are disappointed in the decision, we appreciate Judge Kuhnke's acknowledgement that our students are still being harmed. We also understand the high legal standard of 'irreparable harm' we faced. The university remains ready and willing to negotiate. In the meantime, our top priority continues to be carrying out the educational mission of this university,” spokesperson Kim Broekhuizen said in an email.

There could be more work for the Washtenaw County Circuit Court to work out, specifically relating to the grading question.

Subhamitra Roychoudhury is a junior at U of M.

He said he’s worried about the impact delays in grading or having to take a “pass-fail” option would have on his upcoming law school applications.

“There’s this assumption I think when you see a pass-fail grade, especially if it’s one pass-fail grade among others that are not pass-fail, that you are using that to try to hide a grade that is much lower,” Roychoudhury said after the hearing.

After announcing her decision, Kuhnke told lawyers for both sides that an order concerning whether instructors who have hidden grades for courses they taught to restore them could be coming later this week.

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Colin Jackson is the Capitol reporter for the Michigan Public Radio Network.
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