I got an email from a reader on an organizing effort he’s involved in at the University of Michigan. I read through all the information he provided.
I’m pressed for time this morning, and it looks like this is going forward today, so what follows is his story, edited by me:
Currently, Graduate Student Research Assistants aren’t unionized (they generally work in the hard sciences in labs). They were a part of the bargaining unit but were kicked out in 1980 by an administrative ruling from the Michigan Employment Relations Commission (MERC) that said that they weren’t employees.
In April 2011, after a four-month card-collection drive, more than 1,200 GSRAs – 55 percent of the roughly 2,200 RAs employed at UM – signed cards and petitioned MERC to demand a union election. We had a roughly 75 percent sign up rate of the RAs were could actually find.
Initially UM administrators, ferociously opposed the effort, but were overruled by the elected Board of Regents in May 2011.
Despite the Regents’ vote, many faculty members and administrators continued to openly oppose the GSRA union drive, claiming that it would somehow disrupt the sacred magical “mentor-mentee” relationship between advisor and advisee. Oddly, for scientists and scholars, logic seemed in short supply For an example, see this fine example from an associate Dean in the College of Engineering.
Notice how he doesn’t cite any empirical evidence for his claims.
And for a response see here.
For Henry Farrell’s marvelous takedown of the academic arguments against unionization see here.
Meanwhile, In August 2011, as these issues were heating up, and MERC began reviewing its 1981 ruling, the Mackinac Center for Public Policy – our state JV associate of the American Legislative Exchange Council — jumped in to “represent” a GSRA who didn’t want a union and started screaming about “forced unionization” and attempting to interfere in the MERC hearing process.
MERC threw out both the AG and the Mackinac Center’s complaints (as did other courts), opened a formal review of its 1981 ruling and ordered an non-partisan administrative law judge to conduct a fact-finding hearing, which took place this month.
Now here’s where it gets really interesting. About a week and a half ago, the administrative hearing was concluding and less than a month before MERC would issue its ruling on whether or not GSRAs were employees in addition to being students, and therefore having rights to form a union under PERA. Suddenly the leader of the Michigan State Senate, Randy Richardville, introduces a bill (0971) that would redefine PERA to explicitly state that GSRAs are not employees. He claims that he met with a few GSRAs who didn’t want to be unionized, and was moved by their plight. Of course, he never met with any of the 1,200 GSRAs who signed cards supporting a union and who want a fair election.
The bill is now before the House and slated for hearings on this Wednesday, March 1. No doubt it will be expedited.
We are pressing as hard as we can to stop this bill, though we don’t have much hope. We’re just trying to make the GOP do this in broad daylight instead of quietly. (Have I mentioned this week is UM’s Spring Break?)
Here’s a partial list of GOP reps in vulnerable districts we’re targeting, plus the speaker. We need 12 total to flip, which is a tall order.
Mark Ouimet (R) District 52 (517) 373-0828
Rick Olsen (R) District 55 (888) 345-2849
Pat Somerville (R) District 23 (517) 373-0855
Nancy Jenkins (R) District 55 (855) 292-0002
Kevin Cotter (R) District 99 (517) 373-1789
Jase Bolger (R) District 63 (Speaker) (517) 373-1787
We’re also trying to put pressure on Gov. Snyder.
Just to be clear – we all respect the rights of RAs who don’t want a union to vote “no” in a fair election. We also recognize that the university administration would have legitimate interests to protect at the bargaining table. But it’s undemocratic, unfair and underhanded to express these concerns by short circuiting an established administrative process and taking away choice on whether or not to form a union.
This is the union site, where there’s a good run-down of the whole saga. If you’re in Michigan and sympathetic to our reader’s cause, help him out and make some phone calls.
GEO represents graduate student instructors (GSIs) and graduate student staff assistants (GSSAs) at the University of Michigan.