Graduate student research assistant Stephen Raiman misinterprets what the Michigan Student Assembly resolution regarding the rights of GSRAs to form a union is all about. (GSRA group against union asks assembly for support, 10/26/11).
The resolution does not take a position on how GSRAs should vote in an election. Instead, it supports holding an election and requests that the election campaign take place in a way that keeps GSRAs free from intimidation as they make their choices.
We also wish to clear up confusion sowed by Raiman’s statement that GSRAs “already have the right to form a union in which membership is voluntary and no election is required.”
This statement is incorrect. Before a union is recognized, a large portion of the potential bargaining unit (usually a majority) must either formally vote to join a union or sign cards indicating that they wish to form one. An election is the process that GSRAs and the Graduate Employees’ Organization are currently negotiating with University administrators and the Michigan Employment Relations Commission.
Raiman also thinks that current procedures in place provide adequate protection for GSRA pay, benefits and other on-the-job concerns. However, the mediation process he suggests is available at Rackham Graduate School does not carry the force of law that arbitration under a collective bargaining agreement provides. Currently, the University can unilaterally cut pay or health-care benefits for GSRAs at any time, whereas administrators would have to bargain for any cuts under a union contract.
Those protections are well worth union dues, as the recent experience of graduate employees at the University of Wisconsin shows. After anti-worker legislation eliminated the right to collectively bargain for health care for public employees in the state, health-care premiums for graduate students nearly tripled — a cost shift that roughly equals dues payments in itself.
Overall, we know that tens of hundreds of GSRAs support unionization. All we ask is that they have the freedom to vote without interference.
Graduate Employees’ Organization president