The Michigan Employment Relations Commission has once again abandoned the question of whether graduate student research assistants should be able to form a union.
In its meeting yesterday, MERC voted 2-1 to step away from the issue of GSRA unionization, at least until action is taken by another government body, according to Ruthanne Okun, director of the Michigan Bureau of Employment Relations.
“They’re waiting to see what the Legislature or the courts do and I anticipate that one or the other is going to do something, so that will probably result in commission action,” Okun said.
In light of Monday’s decision by the Michigan Court of Appeals to grant House Republicans’ the motion to stay, the injunction prohibiting the immediate effect of House Bill 4246 was nullified. Specifically, this means GSRAs are currently not classified as public employees in the state and thus unable to obtain collective bargaining rights.
Since it’s a pending case, Okun said MERC will have to meet again to discuss GSRA unionization, though the body could determine that it does not have appropriate jurisdiction.
She said that it’s likely the GSRA issue will reach MERC’s desk again within a few months, and noted that today’s motion to table the matter was predictable. She also said MERC stands firm in not taking a position on the issue.
“The commission does not want to take an ideological position. They take positions on cases that are before them,” Okun said.
Rackham student Stephen Raiman, founder of Students Against GSRA Unionization, said he believes MERC did the right thing by abandoning the GSRA issue until further action is taken.
“We’re happy about that,” Raiman said. “We feel that’s the right decision. We’re glad that this state government has decided to stay out of our affairs and let us go about the business of being graduate students free from state influence and free from outside influence.”
Okun said even though the decision was not unanimous, it was an obvious one. She said MERC chair Edward Callaghan, who voted against the motion, was probably in favor of bringing a permanent end to the GSRA issue in MERC, rather than a temporary one, which is why she said he voted the way he did.
Raiman said he expects the Court of Appeals to rule that the bill banning GSRA unionization is legal.
“I’m confident that the court will eventually rule in our favor, that they will find the law that was passed to be constitutional and perfectly proper, so I don’t believe that MERC will feel the need to convene about this issue again,” Raiman said.
Rackham student Liz Rodrigues, communications director for the Graduate Employees’ Organization, said she thinks MERC’s decision makes sense from a legal standpoint.
“It’s not surprising that they would (pass the motion tabling the GSRA issue), given that the law preventing GSRAs from organizing is technically still in immediate effect because a stay has been put on the restraining order,” Rodrigues said.
She added that she is disappointed with the decision because it represents another obstruction to GSRAs voting to unionize, but is optimistic that the House Democrats’ lawsuit could ultimately help GEO’s cause.
“We were heartened that the lawsuit brought to attention the fact that the way that the bill was passed was troubling with its speed and lack of respect for democratic procedure,” Rodrigues said.