The Michigan Employment Relations Commission ruled Monday that since the University’s Graduate Student Research Assistants are not considered public employees, they will not be allowed to unionize — ceasing a months-long endeavor for the GSRAs to join the Graduate Employees Organization.
The decision — which upholds precedent of the 1981 law that ruled students are not public employees and thus cannot unionize — amounted to be a deterrent in GEO’s ambitions to incorporate GSRAs. It was also a victory for GSRA Melinda Day and the Mackinac Center Legal Foundation, which filed a motion on July 28 on Day’s behalf in the hopes of forestalling those objectives.
In response to MERC’s decision, GEO President Sam Montgomery said she maintains the ruling will not end GEO’s efforts to unionize the GSRAs.
Montgomery said despite the decision, the union would continue to pursue negotiations with the University on the terms of an election that could determine whether GSRAs would join the union. Those negotiations began in May, after the University’s Board of Regents voted 6-2 against University President Mary Sue Coleman to give GSRAs collective bargaining rights.
“It seems like it’s an administrative hurdle,” Montgomery said. “It’s something that we’re hoping to have appealed and something that won’t prevent us from working towards an election … This will not deter us in that aim.”
She added her optimism stems from the wishes of GSRAs to gain better working conditions, access to equipment and better health benefits — “all the things … that come with being full members of a union,” she said. Her’s and the GEO’s interpretations of the ruling, however, held that the organization could proceed with its negotiations with the University and eventually have an election.
In an Aug. 8 statement, Patrick Wright, director of the Mackinac Center Legal Foundation, praised MERC’s decision as a “victory for the rule of law.”
“MERC enforced the law, rather than allowing a politically divided (University’s) Board of Regents to bypass it through a hasty resolution,” Wright said in the statement. “This resolution called for a public employee union election for a group of students who weren’t public employees in the first place. The regents have no legal authority to expand the statutory definition of public employees.”
Wright and the Mackinac Center Legal Foundation filed a motion hoping to prevent the GEO’s move to unionize on July 28, according to a July 28 article in The Michigan Daily. At that time, Day, the GSRA on whose behalf the Foundation filed the motion, said in a statement the regulations that unionization would instate would prove unworkable.
“It would hinder our ability to do science,” Day said in the July 28 statement. “I recently completed an experiment that involved taking samples every eight hours. I wouldn’t have been able to do that under the strict work-hour regulations the GEO wants.”