Important Update on UM Staff Union

Dear Colleagues,

In the coming months, you will be asked to sign a membership card for University Staff United, our union for University of Michigan staff. We’ve spent the past three years in conversations with more than 1300 of our colleagues, and we’ve heard many of the same needs and desires again and again:

  • pay that reflect the value of our work, that keeps up with the increasing cost of living, and that’s equitable across all three of our campuses;
  • reasonable workloads that allow us to perform at our best, and freedom from ever-growing responsibilities without compensation;
  • real opportunities for career advancement and meaningful rewards for experience
  • greater support for families and caregivers;
  • fair policies for flexible and remote work, grounded in genuine operational needs and trust for staff;
  • protection from discrimination and mistreatment and the security to stand up for ourselves and for one another.
  • Most of all, we want a real seat at the table where decisions are made about our work.
  • This is why we’re forming University Staff United (USU) — one big union made up of almost all nonsupervisory staff at UM. A recognized union will allow us to negotiate a legally-binding contract with UM, both to secure what’s good about our jobs and to push for improvement.

    Our vision is one big union that represents a number of groups (called “bargaining units”), each made up of staff in a particular category of work and with its own contract attuned to our particular needs. After many months of growing momentum, we’ve decided to move forward this fall with a membership drive in the first bargaining unit, Educational Staff (Student Services & Instructional Services). This drive is the process of bringing together a strong majority of staff in your bargaining unit as USU members, which will allow us to request official recognition under the regents’ policy of neutrality.

    This is our union, and it’s up to us to grow and shape it into a powerful, democratic force for justice at work. That’s why we need more of you to join our Organizing Committee and help build USU by talking with your coworkers this fall. If you’re interested in helping out, please fill out this form (both pages!) and we’ll be in touch to help you get started. We’re holding an Organizing Committee retreat on September 9 to prepare for the membership drive, and we’d love for you to join us!

    Otherwise, you’ll have the opportunity to show your support by signing your membership card later this fall. Together we can make a huge difference in our working conditions.

    If you have any questions, please feel free to reach us at

    In solidarity,
    University Staff United Organizing Committee


Everything You Need to Know About House Calls

Summer is here, and our campaign is in full swing! Our goal is to talk with each and every staff member in the Academic, Student, and Instructional Services Job families this summer before moving into our fall membership drive. These one-to-one conversations give staff a chance to tell their stories, and help organizers learn more about the experiences staff have in our workplace. USU organizers will be visiting homes, offices, and reaching out to individual staff via email and social media. Below are some FAQs about house calls.

Why do we do house calls?

House calls are a long-standing tradition in labor organizing. Many people are hesitant to talk about their workplace in the office where there is limited privacy. Emails often go unanswered or to spam. House visits allow staff to talk in a comfortable place on their own terms, without supervisors overhearing, or worrying about being on the clock. USU organizers are your colleagues. We are also staff at U-M, and we want to hear what you have to say so that we can take action.

Who are USU organizers?

Organizers are U-M staff volunteers from all 3 campuses. We are doing this work because the wellbeing and advancement of ALL staff is important to us. We want to preserve what we like about our workplaces, and organize to make change where it’s needed.

How do we gather address data?

USU organizers use publicly available white pages data to look up home addresses. We will do our best to find your house, apartment, or condo with this information. For the most part, these matches are accurate. Occasionally, we’ll have incorrect addresses or people. We will do our best to follow up with you via email.

Are USU organizers engaging in soliciting?

We are your colleagues and coworkers. Our goal is to share information about your union, your workplace rights, and to give you space to share or ask questions. We are not selling anything, or trying to talk you into anything. You can share your thoughts on our union effort, unions in general, and/or what you like about your work and what changes you’d like to see. This is also a good opportunity for you to learn about getting involved.

What if it’s not a good time to talk?

We hope you will take some time to chat with your colleagues, but we recognize that life is busy and hectic. We welcome you into a conversation so that we can learn more about what issues are important to staff. If it’s not a good time, we will leave our contact information and can follow up by email. If you would prefer to talk on Zoom, we are happy to set up a meeting at a time that works for you. If we visit, and you aren’t home, we’ll leave a slip indicating that we visited, and how you can get in touch.

Want to schedule a one to one conversation at home or on Zoom? Email us at


GEO Strike Begins Wednesday; information for staff

As you have likely heard by now, the membership of GEO, the union of graduate student workers, has voted to begin a strike this Wednesday morning at 10:24am. Despite additional bargaining on Sunday, GEO and management are still far from an agreement. The strike is open-ended, which is to say that it will continue until GEO members vote to call it off.

The issues

While other very important issues also remain unresolved, the top sticking point in negotiations is over salary. You are likely to continue hearing contradictory and misleading claims about graduate students’ pay. Here is the situation: 

  • Pay for a half-time GSI position is currently $12,026.65 per semester, or $24,053.29 for the eight-month academic year. This is the minimum pay that PhD students can expect. Currently, some departments continue to pay their PhD students at the same rate through the summer (for a total of $36,079.94), some pay at a lower rate during the summer, and some provide no summer pay. Master’s students may not get jobs at all, and if they do, it is often for only one semester at a time, with no summer funding.
  • GSIs are most commonly paid half time. Jobs that pay for more than half time are rare because graduate students must also do coursework and/or unpaid research in order to remain eligible for their GSI positions. You may see management or the media describe GSI pay as “$35/hour” or “the equivalent of $72,000 per year.” These figures do not reflect anyone’s actual experience because the structure of graduate students’ work prevents them from being paid full-time year-round.
  • GEO has called for a pay rate such that the typical eight-month position for PhD students would pay a living wage of about $38,537.
  • Management has offered pay increases in the range of 3-5% per year.
  • Rackham Graduate School has recently announced that it will guarantee year-round funding for PhD students. This change would bring the PhD students in departments that do not currently provide summer pay up to the standard of those which do ($36,079.94 at the current rates, or about $37,900 after a 5% increase). The guaranteed summer funding policy would come close to meeting GEO’s living wage demand for PhD students
  • However, there are two problems: the Rackham policy is being presented as non-negotiable and outside the contract, and it does not cover master’s students, whose funding is already much less certain. Only a fraction of master’s students are able to get GSI positions, and when they do, it is often for only one semester and may be for less than half time. GEO is also calling for improvements to make the hiring process for these scarce positions more fair and accessible. About ⅓ of GEO members are master’s students.
  • In addition, management refuses to discuss payment for internships, such as those required of students in the School of Social Work. In a strange Catch-22, those interns are not considered employees precisely because they are unpaid.

What will happen

GEO members will stop working, including most GSIs and GSSAs and some GSRAs (research assistants). Instead, they will walk picket lines in front of the entrances to many buildings on campus, carrying signs, chanting, and singing.


The strike is illegal, and management is expected to take GEO to court. It is difficult to predict exactly what might happen after that. Note that the law prohibits coordinated refusal to work, not picketing — so if you join GEO on the picket line, as long as the line is peaceful and orderly, you are not breaking the law. Each picket line will have a picket captain who is trained to interact with the police if necessary.

What GEO is asking of others

Never Cross a Picket Line is a foundational moral principle of solidarity in the labor movement. The more people stop work, the more effective the strike will be, and the sooner it can be resolved. But at a workplace like UM, with many different kinds of workers and several different unions, the practicalities of upholding that principle are very difficult. Staff and other unrepresented workers could face discipline if you refuse work. Recognizing this, GEO’s key request is that others not perform struck work, that is, do not fill in for striking graduate students. 

What staff should do

You will have to assess the circumstances in your particular department or workplace. Talk with your immediate coworkers and make a plan; whatever you decide to do, you will be better off doing it together. Here are some possibilities, ranging from the best to the worst situation:

  • Some staff may be able to avoid working during the strike, either because you can take approved time off or because your department or supervisor looks the other way.
  • If you must work, ask to work from home even if you normally do not. Explain to your supervisor right away that you have a strong moral objection to crossing picket lines. If your request is denied, comply; if you argue or refuse to do as instructed you will be at very serious risk of discipline for insubordination. 
  • If you must work in a building which is being picketed, try to arrive early and leave late. Pickets are likely to be concentrated during the times when classes are normally held. Much of the power of a GEO strike is about appearances; you will help keep up the morale of the striking workers if neither they nor the press see you go to work.
  • If you are asked to take on work normally done by graduate students, express your strong moral reservations and ask your supervisor not to put you in that situation. Clarify whether the request is a directive. If you are directed to perform struck work and you refuse, again, you will be at very serious risk of discipline. We cannot in good conscience advise you to risk your job in support of the strike.

Do what is possible for you, and then forgive yourself for not doing what is not possible. When workers push for change at the very limits of our power, as GEO is doing, we must celebrate what we can accomplish now and then continue to organize for the future.

How else you can help

Solidarity Forever!


Diagnostic Imaging Professionals’ Union Recognized

We’re organizing USU with a big dream: to bring together staff all across UM, in every department and every kind of job, into a strong democratic union, and to fight together for dignity, equality, and the improvements we need in our work lives. Now we can take inspiration from our counterparts, patient care staff at Michigan Medicine. Similar to USU, their plan is to unite thousands of workers in a single union, United Michigan Medicine Allied Professionals (UMMAP), that will represent nine groups of workers each with its own union contract.

Last month, UMMAP members’ determination paid off: with the support of a supermajority of Michigan Medicine’s 900 diagnostic imaging professionals, UM management officially recognized UMMAP for that group. Now the imaging professionals have the right to negotiate their pay, hours, and working conditions, and they are already preparing to go to the bargaining table. With more and more staff contributing to help make it happen, we can do the same in USU. Then, through our union, we can achieve improvements in the issues shared by so many UM staff, including discrimination and lack of accessibility, low and stagnant wages, and increasing workloads without recognition or compensation.


Information Resources Workers at U-M First to Join New University-Wide Staff Union

August 1, 2022 —

More than 200 information resources and museum workers from all three University of Michigan campuses today announced majority support for their union, the newly formed University Staff United (USU), AFT Michigan Local 284. The workers, who care for U-M’s libraries, museums, and other collections, are taking advantage of the university board’s cooperative framework for union organizing. Active campaigns to unionize other U-M staff units are underway. 

The information resources and museum staff building  the new union work in libraries and museums across University campuses in Ann Arbor, Dearborn, and Flint. They maintain and share the university’s celebrated, world-class collections, from state-of-the-art and up-to-the-minute publications to unique, ancient, and endangered materials. Their care for these wide-ranging resources requires a mix of technical, ethical and practical expertise that deserves fair compensation. Onsite and online, information resource staff enhance and inform the university experience for all ages and levels of scholars.

“On so many issues right now, university staff are at the mercy of the department’s and the school’s leadership. If we’re unionized, management has to come to the table and brainstorm solutions alongside us,” said Samuel Simpson, a resource-sharing specialist with Illiad/Collections on the Ann Arbor campus. “We’re not organizing to go against ‘them.’ We’re organizing to work better together. For example, many teams could have more flexible and remote work opportunities if we could work together and create an in-person work rotation– but management often won’t allow this and won’t take the time to even listen. A union will make sure staff are heard.”

U-M staff in a wide variety of jobs share this desire for an equal voice, having found themselves in a position where a small number of high-ranking managers often make decisions that affect their indispensable work. Some of the specific conditions cited by information resources workers include:

  • Increasing responsibilities without commensurate increases in pay or recognition – especially due to vacancies that go unfilled
  • Little opportunity for advancement, including for staff with specialized experience or advanced degrees
  • Pay that is inequitable, stagnant, and inadequate for the cost of living
  • Discrimination, favoritism, and failure to provide needed disability accommodations
  • High cost and inaccessibility of childcare
  • Flexible and remote work policies that are arbitrary in nature and do not meet the demonstrated needs of each unit

Many information resources and museums staff work closely with non-tenure-track faculty librarians, archivists, and curators, who gained their own union representation in 2021 as members of the Lecturers’ Employee Organization – Galleries, Libraries, Archives, & Museums (LEO-GLAM), AFT local 6244. Meredith Kahn, librarian on the Ann Arbor campus and LEO-GLAM campus chair, expressed support for the newly-organized staff: “The librarians, archivists, and curators of LEO-GLAM are proud to offer our congratulations to USU! We stand in solidarity with our staff colleagues, and we look forward to building collective power together in the service of a more equitable and humane workplace for all.”

US Representative Debbie Dingell, whose district includes U-M’s Ann Arbor and Dearborn campuses, said: “The university staff who announced their union today are building on a long and proud labor history here in Southeast Michigan. U-M is an anchor of our regional economy, so when workers there speak up and fight for the solid, dignified, middle-class careers they deserve, that sets an example that benefits our whole community.”

Michael Behm, member of the Board of Regents of the University of Michigan, said: “We know from experience that when workers here at U of M organize unions, their involvement in the decisions affecting their work leads to improvements both in their own lives and in the quality of the education, research, and healthcare the University is able to provide. Staff are at the heart of our libraries, cultural institutions, and every part of U of M. I’m looking forward to working more closely with them through USU.”

University Staff United urges staff from across U-M to join in pursuing dignity, equality, and justice through democratic organizing and collective bargaining. USU aims to provide collective advocacy for all University of Michigan staff by expanding to include additional job categories such as student services, research, and communications.