Following the example of the school’s graduate student workers, resident advisers at the University of Michigan-Ann Arbor have gone on strike.
After voting to authorize a strike on September 8th — Labor Day, no less — members of the Graduate Employees’ Organization 3550 (GEO) at the University of Michigan rejected the administration’s initial offer. The union, which represents graduate student instructors and staff assistants, plans to continue striking until their demands for a safe and equitable campus are met. Among other things, they are fighting for widespread COVID-19 testing on campus and the right to work remotely.
Shortly after GEO began their work stoppage, over 100 of the school’s resident advisers followed suit. One of them, who wishes to remain anonymous, described what moved him to action:
“I am striking because the University’s reopening plan has been both irresponsible and ill-informed, especially in the dorms. Resident advisers are expected to personally enforce mask-wearing and social distancing. We were given minimal PPE and almost every dorm is understaffed.”
It is for these reasons that resident advisers voted in favor of striking at a 71% clip. Much like GEO, they are demanding that the University of Michigan administration take proper safety precautions. Resident advisers are calling for increased access to testing for all residential staff and regular updates on new cases. They are also requesting the hazard pay owed to those putting themselves in harm’s way on the job.
Leading up to the strike, resident advisers held two virtual town halls to voice their concerns. Unfortunately, according to the anonymous resident adviser (referred to from hereon as “Doe”), “neither of these meetings produced any substantial change.” The ultimate ineffectiveness of efforts like these convinced resident advisers that they had no other choice but to withhold their labor.
“Residential staff felt disrespected and ignored by University Housing. With the timely emergence of the GEO strike, we figured there would not be a better opportunity and were inspired by the resident advisers at Cornell who successfully planned and implemented a strike overnight,” Doe explained.
Doe and his fellow workers were able to take quick and decisive action despite being unable to gather in large numbers in person. They relied on regular video calls and group chats to coordinate. Social media and collaborative online workspaces like Slack also played a big role. Organizing in the age of COVID-19 is no small task, but the University of Michigan’s resident advisers proved they were up to it.
To Doe’s knowledge, despite long-held dissatisfaction, this is the first group of resident advisers at the University of Michigan to go on strike. While they hope to reach a deal with University Housing as soon as possible, they are willing to stick it out if need be. And, for these resident advisers, agitating for better conditions transcends pure self-interest. This is about creating a more hospitable environment for all student workers. As Doe put it:
“It is important for resident advisers to organize for the same reason it is important for any worker to organize: there is strength in solidarity and in numbers. We recognized we were being taken advantage of and have been forced into an unsafe situation we did not sign up for. Coming together and working collectively has really shown us a clearer path toward justice for all student workers.”
Those interested in supporting the University of Michigan’s resident advisers are encouraged to visit their LinkTree, which includes a petition and an email template to pressure the administration. Ultimately, though, Doe says the best way to help out is to expand the fight:
“Aiding in and supporting organizing efforts on your own campus, especially of resident advisers and residential staff, is huge.”
Elias Khoury is a senior at the University of Michigan-Ann Arbor, president of the campus’ YDSA chapter, and an editor for The Activist.
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