A controversial bill that would legally codify graduate student research assistants as students, not public employees with the right to organize, could be headed to Republican Gov. Rick Snyder’s desk as early as next week after the state House of Representatives passed the bill Thursday in a party-line vote.
The bill, which was passed by a 62-45 margin, moved swiftly through the state Legislature as it was approved by the House only one day after the House Government Operations Committee heard testimony regarding the issue and voted to send it to the full body. The bill, Senate Bill 971, was introduced and passed the Senate last week.
Snyder is expected to sign the bill into law as early as next Wednesday after the House and the Senate take several administrative steps regarding the bill, Ari Adler, the press secretary for House Speaker Jase Bolger (R–Marshall) said. After Snyder signs it, the bill would become law 90 days after the last day the House is in session for the year. But, the House is planning to circumvent that by voting to put the law into immediate effect.
The earliest the vote for immediate effect could take place is Tuesday, the next day the House is in session, Adler said. It would then head to Snyder.
“It was determined that it was an urgent issue that needed to be addressed to be able to bring this resolution for the University for all the people involved,” he said. “The Senate moved it quickly, sent it over and we (did) as well.”
House Democratic Leader Richard Hammel (D–Mt. Morris Township) said he was “disappointed” with the passing of the bill since it skirted the legal process set up by the Michigan Employment Relations Commission to deal with these types of labor disputes.
“It circumvented the process that’s set up in state law that allows the Michigan Employment Relations Commission … to review these applications and take the politics out of collective bargaining.”
The bill amends the Public Employment Relations Act, and affirms a 1981 ruling by MERC that declared that GSRAs didn’t have the right to unionize
MERC is in the process of determining whether the Graduate Employees’ Organization, the union that represents graduate student instructors and graduate student staff assistants, can organize a vote among the University’s GSRAs to determine whether they want to join the union. It’s unclear how the passing of the bill will impact that process.
GEO President Sam Montgomery, a Rackham student, said the bill incorrectly defines GSRA’s and limits their rights.
“GSRAs are both students and employees of this university and employees should have the right to have a voice in the terms and conditions of their work,” she said. “Having the ability to form a union gives them that voice.”
An administrative law judge heard testimony from the involved parties last month and was expected to make a recommendation to MERC later this month about whether the GSRAs can hold a vote to determine if they’ll join GEO.
Montgomery added that if MERC declared that GSRAs are employees, she thinks the research assistants would then vote in support of unionization.
“We know that a majority of graduate student research assistants support this and we feel confident that if they are given the ability they will form a union,” she said.
Rackham student Stephen Raiman, the founder of Students Against GSRA Unionization wrote in an e-mail that he is glad the state House passed SB 971.
“We are very pleased the Legislature has recognized that GSRAs are students, and that they deserve to work on their degrees free from outside interference,” Raiman wrote.