Yesterday marked the conclusion of another phase in a group of graduate student research assistants’ campaign to form a union.
Wednesday was the first day of a three-day hearing in front of an administrative judge who is set to make a recommendation about the status of GSRAs to the Michigan Employment Relations Commission by its March 13 meeting. The hearing took place Wednesday, Thursday and yesterday, and included testimonies by University Provost Philip Hanlon and others called by University lawyers and litigators for the Graduate Employees’ Organization — the union representing GSRAs.
Julia Stern, the administrative law judge presiding over the hearing, will report back to MERC’s three commissioners — Edward Callaghan, Christine Derdarian and Nino Green. Stern’s recommendation is not binding, meaning the commissioners will have the opportunity to decide for themselves the fate of the GSRAs’ effort.
GEO President Sam Montgomery, a Rackham graduate student, wrote in an e-mail that she was content with the hearing.
“GSRAs have testified about the work that they do,” Montgomery wrote. “We are confident that the judge will review the facts fairly.”
Stephen Raiman, founder of Students Against GSRA Unionization and a Rackham graduate student, said he was not impressed by GEO’s performance at the hearing.
“I think the case that was made by the union attorney was very weak,” Raiman said. “I think that a lot of their supporting evidence and testimony was not compelling to me. It seemed to be a lot of semantics. “
The dispute at hand is technically between the University and GEO, but in May, the University’s Board of Regents voted 6-2 to classify GSRAs as employees, meaning the official University position was in favor of calling GSRAs public employees. Still, Mary Sue Coleman and other University officials publicly said they oppose unionization despite the regents’ support. Outside parties, such as SAGU and Attorney General Bill Schuette, were not allowed to participate in the hearing and have said that they consider the decision unfair given that the University and GEO do not actually disagree.
In the official hearing, SAGU and Schuette could not present facts or cross-examine witnesses. However, time has been set aside during the week of Feb. 20 for those opposed to unionization to present facts and possibly testify before the administrative judge.
Raiman said he was pleasantly surprised by the decision to allow third-party evidence to be submitted and hopes the judge will fully consider the information presented.
Though he could not reveal whether or not he will testify, Raiman said information about who will present material in front of the judge will be made public on Feb. 9.
Raiman added that regardless of what MERC decides in March, his group will continue to fight against unionization.
“If MERC comes up with a decision that’s unfavorable to us we definitely plan to appeal,” Raiman said. “ … We do strongly believe that we are students not employees, and we’ll … pursue whatever legal avenues.”
Raiman said if MERC decides to allow a vote for unionization, his group’s options to appeal lie with state appeals courts rather than MERC.
“I think there will be some interest within the judicial system in our case, so we’re prepared to go that route,” he said.