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University Of Michigan Turns To Courts As Graduate Students Extend Coronavirus Strike

Mark Schlissel/Twitter/Video screenshot

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The University of Michigan announced it is seeking a temporary restraining order against a graduate student teachers union after the group announced it would continue to strike against the school’s coronavirus policies.

University president Mark Schlissel made the announcement in a video message to the student body Monday. The Graduate Employees’ Organization (GEO), which is made up of graduate students who are employed by the school, has been striking against the school’s pandemic reopening plans since Sept. 8, The Michigan Daily reported.

“We want our great classes to continue, our students to learn without interference and we don’t want anyone to feel threatened simply for wanting to go to class,” Schlissel said in a Sept. 14 video to the campus community.

He continued: “We’d much rather our classes be in session while we work out our differences.”

The GEO turned down an offer from the university on Wednesday that would’ve ended the strike, according to The Michigan Daily. Meanwhile, university leadership has reiterated that it is committed to “engaging” with students who are concerned.

Union members voted Sunday to extend the strike until Friday, a move which forced the university’s hand, according to Schlissel. The University of Michigan depends on graduate students to teach and to assist with undergraduate classes.

“Going to the court was our only choice after learning the strike would continue,” he said. (RELATED: Ohio State Suspended Over 200 Students Over COVID Rules Before Classes Began)

The union’s demands include the universal right to work remotely and better virus testing plans, according to The Michigan Daily. The university has announced plans to return to in-person learning safely, which include a “contact tracing corp” of volunteer investigators who will serve as contact tracers, but the GEO said these measures don’t go far enough.

“Shame on the University of Michigan for using their immense resources to bully their graduate workers out of striking — instead of using those same resources to create a safe and just campus for all,” GEO said in a statement Monday in response to Schlissel’s announcement.

“This legal move is a clear sign that withholding our labor is working: The University is feeling our power.”

Additionally, the union’s demands go beyond pandemic-related measures. GEO also wants the school to reallocate some funding from the Division of Public Safety and Security to community-based organizations, The Michigan Daily reported.

The coronavirus pandemic, which President Donald Trump declared a national emergency in March, has upended schools’ return plans across the country. National teachers unions have criticized the Trump administration’s efforts to get schools to return to in-person learning as “unsafe.”

If the court grants the University of Michigan’s request, the graduate students would be forced to return to work, according to The Michigan Daily.

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