In a recent resolution pushed through the Michigan Student Assembly, and in a recent press release, the Graduate Employees’ Organization has called for an election “free of outside interference” to determine whether graduate student research assistants will become unionized. Most of my fellow GSRAs would find this idea a little hypocritical, as GEO has hired paid American Federation of Teachers employees to visit the homes and offices of every GSRA on campus to deliver a sales pitch. It seems GEO’s definition of “outside interference” only includes those who disagree with them.
This political double-speak, sadly, has been a constant theme during GEO’s campaign to push compulsory unionization on GSRAs. During GEO’s most recent contract negotiation, it simply tried to absorb GSRAs into its bargaining unit with no election at all. This fact should be remembered when GEO claims it seeks only to hold a fair and democratic election.
Having failed to strong-arm the University into including GSRAs in its union, GEO set out to pull an “election” fast one. During GEO’s negotiations with the University, GEO lawyers pushed to hold an election as soon as possible during the summer term. It’s clear that GEO felt it had an advantage by holding the election while many GSRAs were away from school, and before their opposition could properly mount a campaign.
Again denied by the University, GEO took to political means to get what it wanted. Recent hearings before the Michigan Employment Relations Commission regarding an election have laughably seen GEO arguing its case with no opposition, after successfully using legal and political maneuvers to silence the University administration, and my group, Students Against GSRA Unionization. The recent involvement of the Attorney General’s office will finally provide a voice opposing GEO, though it may already be too late. Using the courts to silence its opposition does not seem very democratic.
Why is GEO trying to silence its critics? Why are members not telling the whole truth? Because compulsory unionization does not make sense for GSRAs. GEO has not proposed any benefits that aren’t already offered to GSRAs by the University. GEO has argued that it has been the driving force behind raises in graduate student pay and benefits over the years, expecting us to believe that the University would simply let GSRA pay fall behind other comparable universities, with whom we compete for the most talented graduate students.
GEO has used fear as motivation, spinning tales of oppressive advisers who mistreat their graduate students at-will and never let them leave their labs, even when family members pass away. We’ve all heard these tales, but the fact is that Rackham Graduate School already provides resources for students who feel that their advisers or departments are treating them unfairly. Rackham has a long record of successfully advocating for students who feel they have been mistreated, and the school does it without reaching into our pockets. GEO has been trying to scare us into handing them over $400 per year for their “protection,” but it is clear to all of us that their protection is not needed or wanted.
A fair election seems like a noble cause, but what GEO seeks is hardly fair. With the University prohibited from campaigning against the union, the only opposition to GEO would come from student groups like mine, which is a volunteer group with no budget or staff. GEO, on the other hand, is free to spread campaign promises (true or untrue) with its vast financial and promotional resources, including full-time paid campaign staff.
GEO’s motivation is primarily financial. By absorbing GSRAs, GEO stands to collect nearly $1 million annually in additional dues. This will nearly triple its annual income. The $400 annual fee will be mandatory for all GSRAs — whether they want the union’s services or not. GEO’s claims of “freedom” and “choice” fall flat with the realization that all GSRAs would be forced to submit to GEO’s employment agreement, and all would have to submit to their mandatory service fee for the privilege of being included in a contract with which they may or may not agree.
Stephen Raiman is a GSRA and Ph.D. student. He is the founder of Students Against GSRA Unionization.