Attorney General Schuette opposes GSRAs’ unionizing

By Rayza Goldsmith, Daily Staff Reporter
Published November 30, 2011

With the intervention of Michigan Attorney General Bill Schuette, the plot has thickened in the dispute over whether graduate student research assistants should be allowed to unionize.

Schuette filed a motion yesterday stating his intent to intervene at the Michigan Employment Relations Commission’s meeting on Dec. 13 when the commission will determine whether or not GSRAs will be allowed to hold an election over unionization. Previously, only those in favor of unionization have been represented at the MERC meetings.

Schuette stated in the motion that unionization could detract from the University’s ability to attract the best students and researchers. He added that at least 19 current and former University deans support this stance stating their opposition and cited a letter they wrote to University Provost Philip Hanlon this past summer.

“Potential unionization will compromise the integrity of the mentor-mentee relationship essential to a successful and prestigious doctoral program,” Schuette wrote in the motion. “The imposition of (a union) into the educational process could make the University less attractive as a research institution.”

Schuette said because the University receives state tax dollars, the issue of GSRA unionization is a matter of public interest, which gives him the authority to intervene. A MERC ruling from 1981 prevents students, including GSRAs, from unionizing because they are not public employees.

On May 19, the University Board of Regents voted 6-2 to recognize GSRAs as employees. At the time of the vote, University President Mary Sue Coleman said she did not agree with the regents’ decision.

In his motion, Schuette wrote that the regents’ decision will make it difficult for the MERC and an administrative law judge, who would conduct the vote, to oppose the position that GSRAs are employees. According to Schuette, this is another reason for his intervention.

Rackham student Stephen Raiman, a representative of Students Against GSRA Unionization, said the attorney general’s decision to intervene is a step in the right direction.

“I think it’s a very positive development for us,” Raiman said. “It’s going to have somebody representing our interests … at MERC and in court.”

Raiman added that until this point, the interests of his group have not been represented at the MERC, despite faculty support.

“Our voice has been taken from us by the Board of Regents’ vote to support unionization,” Raiman said.

A statement to The Michigan Daily last night from the Graduate Employees' Organization stated that GEO will “continue their effort to restore their collective bargaining rights even as the Attorney General attempts to delay or prevent a union election by filing a motion to intervene.”

In the motion, Schuette said it is the attorney general’s responsibility to guarantee that all pertinent information and arguments are presented before the MERC.

At the Dec. 13 MERC meeting in Detroit, the committee 's first action will be to order a hearing to gather facts regarding GSRA employment status, and the second item would deny the motion to reconsider unionization.

The Michigan Student Assembly passed a resolution on Nov. 8 in support of the GSRAs’ right to hold an election to unionize.

Correction appended: A previous version of this article incorrectly stated the first action at MERC's Dec. 13 meeting. It is to order a hearing to gather facts regarding GSRA employment status