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Posted on Wed, Dec 14, 2011 : 1:57 p.m.

Judge to decide if U-M graduate student researchers can unionize

By Kellie Woodhouse

The Michigan Employment Relations Commission voted Tuesday to allow an administrative law judge to decide if Graduate Student Research Assistants at state universities can unionize.

The 2-1 vote is a triumph for a group of University of Michigan GSRAs that have been trying to unionize for more than a year.

The unionization attempt initially received criticism from U-M administrators, but the school's Board of Regents voted in May to approve GSRAs right to unionize.

After the regents' vote, GSRAs sought permission from MERC to unionize, but were initially denied. A group of GSRAs and advocates have appealed that denial, and MERC voted Tuesday to let a judge decide whether GSRAs should be allowed to unionize.

MERC also denied Michigan Attorney General Bill Schuette's appeal to become a party in the case. Schuette has been an outspoken opponent of GSRA unionization and last month filed a motion to become involved in the case, saying unionization could "significantly damage" and "seriously jeopardize" U-M.

MERC did, however, say Schuette could submit evidence to the judge.

“We’re gratified that we’re going to have the opportunity to prove that the GSRAs are employees with the right to vote,” Samantha Montgomery said in an email. Montgomery is the president of the Graduate Employees Organization, a U-M group that's been advocating for GSRA unionization.

The Mackinac Center Legal Foundation, a group that has been fighting GSRAs ability to unionize, criticized MERC's decision. The Mackinac Center, which says it represents the voice of hundreds of GSRAs who don't agree with unionization, also filed a motion to become party in the case but was denied by MERC.

"We now have a case where an administrative law judge is going to hear from two parties — the union and the university acting at the behest of the Board of Regents — both representing the case for unionization. The students directly impacted by the decision were left out in the cold," Mackinac Center Director Patrick J. Wright said Tuesday.

Kellie Woodhouse covers higher education for Reach her at or 734-623-4602 and follow her on twitter.


Left is Right

Thu, Dec 15, 2011 : 2:44 p.m.

As I said previously, have a vote but make it mandatory that all GSRAs vote. Let's see where the chips fall.


Thu, Jan 19, 2012 : 11:01 p.m.

I kind of agree. The entire proposed voting process is extremely sketchy.


Thu, Dec 15, 2011 : 2:08 p.m.

Social and economic justice for all!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!


Thu, Dec 15, 2011 : 1:04 p.m.

Since the appointment of GRSA's are usually for one term, the answer is simple, do not renew any of them and get rid of the annoyance. The GRSA's can then focus on their class work, lose their stipend, tuition waiver and the GradCare health benefits they enjoy, and take out student loans for the rest of their time at UofM. They will have to do the research anyway, in order to complete their graduate programs, and the funding organizations can put their grants where they are more appreciated.


Thu, Dec 15, 2011 : 6:22 a.m.

I am a GSRI and I am very much against the unionization. When it comes to a vote I will vote no. We are students, and we are paid in stipends to get us through school. I am here to get my PhD, and then I will leave (ideally as quickly as possible). There is nothing this union can offer me in exchange for my earnings. I will not pay them - I don't care if it is 'mandatory'. What are they going to do, attempt to get me kicked out of school? I'd like to see them try.


Thu, Jan 19, 2012 : 11 p.m.

Don't worry, we'll go on strike or something to prove our point. You're not getting a dime of dues out of any of the people that are against this.


Thu, Dec 15, 2011 : 2:31 p.m.

And by that I mean you can pay the union dues or not get paid at all. You are not entitled to a stipend or the GSRA health benefits.


Thu, Dec 15, 2011 : 2:27 p.m.

Look up the definition of mandatory. If the union is certified by the Judge, you will pay or you can elect to not get paid. Simple.

Stephen Landes

Wed, Dec 14, 2011 : 11:20 p.m.

Let the union be formed, but only if there is a right to work provision, so students who do not want the burden of paying for a union they do not need or want can continue to be students at Michigan without the GEO.


Wed, Dec 14, 2011 : 10:51 p.m.

Students are paid a stipend, not a salary. You are here for an education and not a job. If you don't like your working conditions, you can go apply someplace else. Yeah, it does feel like work sometimes but quit being a bunch of cry babies. You knew what you were getting into when you came here and if you can't handle it, I'm sure you can manage at one of those online schools.

Ron Granger

Wed, Dec 14, 2011 : 10:17 p.m.

They should change their name to the "Yackinac Center Legal Foundation".


Wed, Dec 14, 2011 : 9:29 p.m.

If they work for and get paid by the university...then they should be allowed to vote on whether or they not they want to be represented by a union. If they were strictly volunteer I would think different.


Wed, Dec 14, 2011 : 9:05 p.m.

I think it will be great if the grad students can get some more money and direct it towards some beard-trimming services.


Wed, Dec 14, 2011 : 9:02 p.m.

Can anyone actually recall an instance where B. Schuette has been on record actually carrying out the job of our states AG? He has completely redefined the office of State AG into a bully pulpit used to be the hatchet man for the union busting GOP agenda. ---that and twisting state law in the effort to carry out his own personal agenda i.e.; his raging war on medical marijuana.

Cheng Wu

Wed, Dec 14, 2011 : 8:28 p.m.

Can the reporter or anybody analyze the possible consequences of unionization from both sides? for example, Does that mean a professor cannot fire a GSRA student easily? if so, will such consequences result in possible reduction of recuiting GSRA students bye the faculty at UM? Thanks.


Wed, Dec 14, 2011 : 8:57 p.m.

Hey Cheng, I'd recommend browsing through some of the economics and labor relations journals on JSTOR. That being said it would be neat for a paper to try and write such an article.


Wed, Dec 14, 2011 : 8:07 p.m.

This entire episode stinks. The GEO is a dishonest organization. When mustering support for a union vote (way before this MERC stuff) the GEO and its union affiliates sent two representatives to each and every GSRA on campus urging individuals to sign "support" cards. We weren't told that these would be used to support a union election. We weren't told that these would bring us one step closer to mandatory union dues. We were told that they merely represented your "support" for a union. I signed one, as did many others in my department. Those who didn't sign the cards were visited a second time (all of this during work hours) and pressured again to sign the cards - often times one of representatives was a taller, muscular guy with many piercings... There have also been reports of the GEO and its representatives soliciting GSRA's at their homes. They just won't take "no" for an answer. This campaign did not grow out GSRA's asking to joing the GEO, it grew out of the GEO attempting to double or triple its membership size., please report on both sides of the story. I am not anti-union (nor are most of the GSRA's I've communicated with) I just don't think that a union is suitable nor needed in this situation.


Thu, Jan 19, 2012 : 10:57 p.m.

Many people are making the SAME claims. You just happily ignore everything that makes your stupid union look bad because clearly it's a saintly institution of absolutely no flaws. You people are creepy beyond all belief. It's like a cult. It's really starting to scare me.


Thu, Dec 15, 2011 : 4:22 a.m.

Should have read what you were signing then. Surely you are aware of campus police if you felt threatened in some manner? This seems highly suspicious as nobody else is making allegations like this.


Wed, Dec 14, 2011 : 8:57 p.m.

What I said was that the GEO representatives mislead me when they told me what the card meant. Had the GEO been honest, I would not have signed the card because I am not in favor of a union.


Wed, Dec 14, 2011 : 8:52 p.m.

So you sign things you do not understand? I guess maybe grad school is a little too confusing for you? All signing did was GIVE YOU THE RIGHT TO VOTE. Are you against that? If you do nto want to be unionized, VOTE AGAINST IT.


Wed, Dec 14, 2011 : 8:26 p.m.

John, this is exactly how we feel! I even saw GEO representatives filling out cards FOR international students when they got confused in these two-on-one meetings.

John of Saline

Wed, Dec 14, 2011 : 8:18 p.m.

This is why unions have been fighting for "card check" instead of secret ballots for union organization. They want the ability to intimidate you into signing those cards and getting the union actually formed that way. Good luck walking to your car after work, hapless employee; Vinnie would like to have a word with you while blocking your path....

Billy Bob Schwartz

Wed, Dec 14, 2011 : 7:31 p.m.

Why don't they call that group the Mackinac Far Right instead of Center?


Wed, Dec 14, 2011 : 7:29 p.m.

I thought the GSI's already had a union? What am I thinking of?


Wed, Dec 14, 2011 : 7:30 p.m.

Ok I see this is the "RA's" that are asking for a union and not the instructors. Got it


Wed, Dec 14, 2011 : 7:28 p.m.

I'm thrilled that we're one step closer to finally getting to vote to form our union and get some protection in the workplace.


Thu, Jan 19, 2012 : 10:54 p.m.

Protection from working too hard, clearly.

Usual Suspect

Thu, Dec 15, 2011 : 2:44 p.m.

I was wondering the same thing. Protection from what? Getting an education?


Wed, Dec 14, 2011 : 7:55 p.m.

Protection from what? I don't need to pay the GEO $400 / year for protection from my advisor which is already offered through Rackham.