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Posted on Sat, Mar 3, 2012 : 5:56 a.m.

An open letter to University of Michigan GSRAs: Why I don't want to unionize

By Guest Column

I’m a second-year PhD student in marketing at the University of Michigan. My department expects me to work hard, but is supportive of my autonomy, does not ask for much in the way of research assistance, and treats such assistance as an opportunity for mentorship. Faculty members even socialize with students pretty regularly.

I have no need or desire for a union. I want only to be left alone to do my research. I consider myself strongly liberal and support the right of employees to unionize, but do not want to join the GEO (Graduate Employees Organization). I know my department has my best interests at heart. I don’t believe the GEO does.

030412_Mike-Palazzolo .jpg

Mike Palazzolo is a doctoral student at the University of Michigan.

The GEO has attempted to sell the following narrative: GSRAs (graduate student research assistants) are united in an effort to form a union and big, bad forces (U-M, conservative think tanks) want to stop us. This could not be further from the truth.

I now join other GSRAS who are refusing to let the GEO pretend that they speak for all of us.

Some of the GEO’s employees once paid me a visit. I asked them what sort of benefits the union would offer. They gave me a canned response about how they won’t know until a contract is negotiated. That’s the best they can do -- ask me for hundreds of dollars and promise they’ll try to make it worth my while. No thanks. I’m not a gambling man.

Worse, they tried to intimidate me. They warned me that there’s technically nothing stopping the university from taking away my benefits. But with the GEO’s protection, I would be safe from such dastardly maneuvers!

This is only one example of what I see as an alarmingly hypocritical (and disturbingly slick) PR campaign. Their modus operandi appears to be as follows: cry wolf about the university intimidating students while they try to do the same, claim the GEO only wants students to be heard and then attack or suppress the views of all students that oppose them. Let’s recap the tactics the GEO has used against the students it claims to support. First, they regularly claim or insinuate that the university is attempting to intimidate students (something no GSRA I know believes to be true). The primary piece of “evidence” held up in support of the intimidation charges was the firing of one GSRA. The GEO claimed the firing was politically motivated. When a fellow student outed the fired GSRA’s poor track record to prove the firing was academically motivated, the GEO blasted him for making “personal attacks” and insinuated the university put him up to it.

The GEO also attempted to ban students who don’t want to unionize from being allowed to speak to Julia Stern, the administrative law judge assigned to the GSRAs’ case. Notice, too, that many of the posts on the GEO’s Facebook page and website are by individuals who aren’t actually students at U-M. Some U-M students have attempted to post rebuttals, only to see their comments deleted. Are these actions representative of an organization that wants students to be heard?

And of course there are those pesky “visits” by GEO employees. At the business school, students (NOT the university) have repeatedly informed the GEO that their employees are not welcome to enter our workspace and interrupt our studies. The GEO may contact students by phone and e-mail if they wish to set up a meeting. They ignored our pleas, and we finally begged Human Resources to get involved. Hopefully the GEO will listen to them. They clearly don’t listen to the students they claim to represent.

Lastly, while decrying “interference by outsiders,” the GEO is supported by a very powerful outside source -- the American Federation of Teachers, which gets approximately one-third of the money the GEO takes from GSRAs. This isn’t just a debate among students, it’s a full-blown PR campaign being waged by an extremely powerful, politically savvy organization -- one that knows a good financial opportunity when they see one. There are roughly 2,100 GSRAs at U-M. At current GEO membership rates and a (conservative) average salary of $17,000 per year, compulsory unionization would net the GEO a windfall of more than half a million dollars.

The GEO has attempted to act as an aggressor while simultaneously playing a victim. By pretending the university is intimidating students, by telling us that we should fear the university’s ability to take away their benefits, and by preventing us from speaking for ourselves, the GEO is itself engaging in a campaign of intimidation. They are attempting to create an atmosphere of distrust, to make students feel unsafe and in need of protection. They’re also attempting to wear down the motivation of the opposition, hoping we can be conned or guilted into thinking we’re in the minority and our fellow students need our help.

My feelings on this subject are quite strong. I know my department has my back. The same cannot be said for the GEO. I find their PR campaign to be repulsively deceptive. I’m writing this letter to make clear that many students are happy with the way things are and are not interested in gambling hundreds of dollars on an organization that doesn’t have our best interests at heart. If this comes to a vote, I encourage students to vote their conscience. If you support the union, that’s your right. But if you don’t, vote against it. Don’t feel that if you vote “no” you’re sentencing suffering students to untold horrors. Don’t be bullied into feeling bad and staying home.

Let’s no longer allow the GEO to pretend it speaks for all of us. It’s time for us to speak for ourselves. If you disagree with me, that’s fine. Tell me how the union will benefit me. Just don’t tell me my life will be miserable without it.

Mike Palazzolo is a second year doctoral student studying Marketing at the University of Michigan. Prior to attending Michigan, he earned his MBA at UC Davis and worked as a graphic designer for two minor league baseball teams.


North Campus

Sun, Mar 4, 2012 : 11:34 p.m.

I just want to point out a couple of things. First, UMICH has over 20 departments (<a href="," rel='nofollow'>,</a> which means your situation cannot begin to represent so many other students. Second, you say you are a second year student, which means you have been here for a little over a year and half now. A PhD at umich takes slightly over six years on average. You haven't even begun to understand your own situation. I say you should pass your marketing course, however.

Mike Palazzolo

Mon, Mar 5, 2012 : 3:02 a.m.

&quot;which means your situation cannot begin to represent so many other students.&quot; As Usual Suspect pointed out, no individual's department does, and this was my larger point--the GEO is trying to sell a story, and that story has one protagonist and a ton of villains. We are not all the same, and it's ok if some of us don't want to unionize. You don't get to tell me to support it and I don't get to tell you not to. But more importantly, the GEO doesn't get to pretend we all support them and try to shout down anyone who would like to say otherwise. &quot;You haven't even begun to understand your own situation.&quot; That's just a silly level of cynicism there. Are you a student here? Have you had a bad experience with your department? If so, I have genuine sympathy for you. But your bad experiences do not mean that everyone in the world is inevitably going to be crushed under the boot of &quot;The Man.&quot;


Mon, Mar 5, 2012 : 2:29 a.m.

&quot;You haven't even begun to understand your own situation.&quot; Wow, sounds a lot like big brother. &quot;You don't know that's why we will help you.&quot; &quot;How can you possibly understand your own situation? Let us do it for you.&quot; &quot;We know better, let us do it for you.&quot;

Usual Suspect

Mon, Mar 5, 2012 : 1:05 a.m.

&quot;First, UMICH has over 20 departments (<a href="," rel='nofollow'>,</a> which means your situation cannot begin to represent so many other students.&quot; Nor does yours.


Sun, Mar 4, 2012 : 10:48 p.m.

But I thought the American Federation of Teachers was a saintly organization that cared about nothing but students' well-being. You mean...they love money? NO WAY! Great piece, Mr. Palazzolo!

Nancy Jowske

Sun, Mar 4, 2012 : 1:59 p.m.

Bravo, Mike. And to all those who say let a vote decide I counter with this. Why force anyone into a collective bargaining arrangement, even if they are in the minority? Why should someone like Mike, who is happy with his department and his level of support into legal representation from an organization he doesn't support? At the very least why would a &quot;democratic organization&quot; like the GEO (cough) not seek to represent just those departments in which they have true depth of support? In other words, if a group of English GRAs want to join the GEO, couldn't they voluntarily pay dues to the GEO and turn to the GEO if they feel treated unfairly? Don't all GRAs already receive the same pay and benefits as GEO members? And when the GEO does fight for a member don't they usually do so by threatening the University and the department in question with job actions and bad press? Or couldn't the AFT appeal to MERC to follow the NLRB's lead in &quot;Specialty Healthcare&quot; and recognize micro-units of GRAs (like the English Department) where it is clear without question that the overwhelming majority support unionization? Of course David Hecker and the AFT-MI want the whole bite of the apple -- the forced dues dollars of every GRA, (and quick! Before Michigan follows Wisconsin!) including the dues dollars of not only those opposed to forced unionization but those international students too consumed with their studies to attempt to unravel the truth out of GEO hyperbole and demonization of the University.


Mon, Mar 5, 2012 : 2:19 a.m.

Wow, you're angry. It is misplaced at me, but that's what angry people do. Re-read my first comment - I don't live in a fairy tale and I'm not in a union. I was in a union at one point in my life and it didn't seem to bother me as much as it does you. If it's any consolation, I'm not angry at you.

Nancy Jowske

Mon, Mar 5, 2012 : 1:54 a.m.

And 1bit? I didn't just drink the Kool-aid, I used to mix it by the barrel and pour it down the throats of others. Believe me I get it, the whole Solidarity schtick. And to union leaders like Hecker? IT'S ALL ABOUT THE MONEY.

Nancy Jowske

Mon, Mar 5, 2012 : 1:50 a.m.

I'll never convince you of the corruption and hypocrisy in organized labor that I've seen first hand, nor would I even try. You still believe in the union fairy tale. Good for you. I still remember how invigorating and comforting it felt to live in the fairy tale and I also know how it sucks when one finally wakes up from it. Get your own, don't worry your little head about who's paying for it and just keep believing your union brothers and sisters down at the union hall have your best interests at heart. It will continue to make you feel all good all over.


Sun, Mar 4, 2012 : 10:50 p.m.

Medical house officers at U of M have been unionized for many years. It works fine. They'll never go on strike, but they've collectively agreed to rules. It's easier for everyone. Look into it. I won't convince you on the benefits of unions, nor do I intend to try. You've made up your mind. If you are still open-minded on the subject, then you would understand that the nature of unions is that it is one-for-all and all-for-one. There really is no in between. I would agree with you that it is all about money. The GRAs don't have the money and neither does the union. The University and mentors do. The University should really set its own standards and enforce compliance by mentors. Problem solved. They don't. So, they leave the door open for unions.

Nancy Jowske

Sun, Mar 4, 2012 : 6:53 p.m.

Great, sure, we have more power when we work collectively, you bet. So explain what organizing oppressed GRAs to stand up collectively has to do with forcing those who don't wish to be a part of that collective to support it financially and be bound by its agreements. Again, if a group of GRAs feel oppressed by the University they have a number of choices other than legally compelling all U of M GRAs to join with them. They can attempt to form micro-unions. They can go ahead and join the GEO and pay dues by choice, not force. Finally, they can stand together in their departments to make change happen and seek out the support of organizations like the GEO. Please explain how forcing collectivism on GRAs in the Business school is critically important to the collective actions of &quot;oppressed&quot; GRAs in, say, the Medical School? You mean if all Med School GRAs walked out it won't make a difference unless GRAs campus-wide join them? Face it -- what's important to the AFT and the leadership of the GEO is the forced unionization of every GRA so they can pull in a boatload of dues money. All this standing together for the sake of the disadvantaged claptrap is only the smokescreen used to legitimize a dues grab. IT'S ALL ABOUT THE MONEY for the leadership of the AFT, the AFT-MI and the GEO and I'm shocked anyone too stoopid to see that could be admitted to any graduate school.


Sun, Mar 4, 2012 : 6:37 p.m.

The short answer is because we are stronger as humans collectively than individually. That's what this country is founded upon. Unions have their problems as do corporations. Neither is all good and neither is all bad. Both have their place.

Stuart Brown

Sun, Mar 4, 2012 : 5:11 a.m.

More conventional wisdom (corporate propaganda) from that fountain of conventional wisdom, Braggslaw, &quot;... on top of that they are a cancer, protecting the slothful, reducing innovation and productivity, and bankrupting private and public institutions.&quot; ---bankrupting private institutions: like the way Alan Greenspan encouraged two financial bubbles (the tech followed by the mortgage bubble) within the space of 10 years? Blame it on the unions! Even though unions are only about 10% of the workforce! ---protecting the slothful: that's right, if you paid the peons at the same level as the CEO's, they'd run off to Florida and never work another day in their lives. The CEO's keep working despite their ungodly compensation levels proving that they are indeed superior beings--in many cases we would all be better off if those CEO's did run off to Florida and never work, how many of them have been paid a fortune to drive their company off a cliff! Did you ever consider the consequences to society of not compensating labor fairly? You send the message that only chumps and losers do the hard work nobody wants to do. Labor unions make sure hard work is fairly rewarded; societies that get everybody working who wants a job will be the most productive in the long run. Don't think so? Then explain why productivity in the unionized auto industry has been up 4-5% every year for the last 20 years which is double the national average. ---reducing productivity and innovation: see above and: consider that higher labor costs will encourage greater investment in labor saving automation. Lower wages do not raise living standards, figuring out how to make a widget with less labor does.

Mike Palazzolo

Sun, Mar 4, 2012 : 1:40 a.m.

I tried to respond to a few of the people who disagreed with me, though in the future I may not be able to respond to everyone. I'm curious how many of the people responding, voting comments up, etc., are actually grad students. If you are, and would like to respond (either positively or negatively), please identify yourself as one--it would be great for us to actually make our opinions clear.

Mike Palazzolo

Sun, Mar 4, 2012 : 7:02 a.m.

Fair enough, Victor--I can understand not wanting to go public if this happened. But ultimately, the question is whether this behavior is rampant enough for us as a group to want to unionize (putting aside for the moment my belief that individual departments should get to decide for themselves). We may never know how many people would have voted for a union now, but my intention was not to say &quot;sorry, suckers&quot; to those who have been mistreated, it was just to push back against the GEO's attempt to sell despair as common place and to coerce people into voting &quot;yes&quot; or not voting at all. If we ever do vote, and a large majority of people vote yes, then maybe I'll reconsider my belief that the sort of abuse you're describing is uncommon. I don't really know many (if any) people who support unionization, so I can't talk to them and learn why they support it. What I can do, though, is make sure the GSRAs as a group know that if any individual does not support the union, they are not alone and should be free to vote as they see fit.


Sun, Mar 4, 2012 : 5:57 a.m.

Good of you to respond Mike - I also follow the SAGU page and have seen the posts of skepticism in reference to my post here. Captive audience meetings were rampant after the administration launched their anti campaign in the summer and, although we'll never know the full extent, pretty much the entire GSRA steering committee had been held in such meetings. We raised these with the administration and they were unwilling to pursue any corrective measures (as they have been throughout the entire campaign in regards to any form of intimidation, retaliation or violations of PERA). And, at this point now that we've been stripped of our ability to form a union and thus gain some sort of workplace protections, is it really worth the risk of being dropped by one's PI to go public?

Sutirtha Bagchi

Sun, Mar 4, 2012 : 1:19 a.m.

Look it basically boils down to whether GSRAs in departments with better working conditions should subsidize GSRAs with poorer working conditions. As someone in the business school, I would not want to share my RA stipend with people in other departments who get paid less than I do / who have more hours of research assistance to provide for their advisors. Essentially, the fact that stipends are more generous at b-schools has nothing to do with the absence of a union but with market conditions. Asst. professors in the Finance department at the b-school get paid in excess of $150,000 - closer to $200,000 whereas full professors in Humanities and several Social Sciences departments get paid much less than that. Likewise, the fact that stipends are higher in b-schools is nothing more than a reflection of the opportunity costs faced by b-school doctoral students in comparison to some other departments. And for some who have said that Mike will be a manager after getting a PhD in Management, it just shows your ignorance of academia in general and the Ross School. Approximately 90% of our graduates end up joining academia following their PhD program. So trying to dismiss the opinions of a bona-fide student by saying that he will be a part of the union is something only stooges of the union such as yourself can do.

Sutirtha Bagchi

Sun, Mar 4, 2012 : 3:33 a.m.

A small correction: The last sentence should read: &quot;So trying to dismiss the opinions of a bona-fide student by saying that he will be a manager is something only stooges of the union such as yourself can do.&quot;


Sat, Mar 3, 2012 : 9:01 p.m.

Labor unions, like our democracy, are far from perfect but they, since the Gilded Age have kept hope and fairness (or at least the hope of fairness) alive for a century. Neither labor nor management have a monopoly on treachery but one does act as a check and balance against the other as long as government does not interfere. I believe we gain nothing if we disallow people the right to vote on anything. I also believe that the side which can keep their eyes and ears open the longest will see the truth. In this case, consider where the real fear is; it is that most workers might actually present the facts, make their case and win by voting fairly. This is not treachery.

Patricia Lesko

Sat, Mar 3, 2012 : 8:22 p.m.

Mike Palazzolo's arguments are hackneyed—straight out of 1994. People who generate tens of millions in revenue for an employer have a simple title: employees. To replace all 2,100 of them in the classroom and labs with regular faculty would cost the University of Michigan close to half a billion dollars, a significant portion of its operating budget. The 300 faculty who signed the open letter in protest of the union earn $45 million annually in salary and benefits, according to pay data made public by the university. At the moment, 70 percent of FT faculty hired hold temporary (non-tenure-line appts.) and 65 percent of the 1.5 million college faculty hold less than full-time appts. U of M has about 1,400 lecturers, and before LEO created the unified local (FT temporary and PT temporary), they were threatened with arbitrary dismissal, hired using arbitrary criteria, denied pay raises, promotion, uniform access to professional development funding, and thorough evaluations. Over the past two decades, the Chronicle of Higher Education has repeatedly reported cases of grad students/researchers who face (and have faced) the same issues, as well, prior to unionization. Mike Palazzolo writes he's not a gambling man. Good for him. He is a researcher, however, and had he done a cursory search of union contracts for grad student locals (readily available online), he would have seen that at NYU, for instance, the UAW local increased wages for grad students there by 38 percent over the course of its four year contract. He's happy with his $17K stipend? At several colleges where grad students are unionized stipends top $30K per year. Against abortion? Don't have one. Don't feel you need a union? Donate every dollar in pay raises you get from the union contract to charity, (as if), and let the employees who'd like to earn $30K enjoy their improved working conditions and pay hike.

Stuart Brown

Mon, Mar 5, 2012 : 3:59 a.m.

Nancy, the old bucket flim flam argument! How does the money end up in the construction budget to begin with? Duh? Maybe if outrageous sums of money were not spent on construction and rehabs, maybe there would be significant funds freed up for other uses, no? Mary Sue's salary is a symptom of a much larger problem of high level admins rewarding themselves at the expense of everyone else. Pay the people in the classroom more and the administrators much less, including Mary Sue!

Nancy Jowske

Sun, Mar 4, 2012 : 7:06 p.m.

Stuart. It simply doesn't work that way in the real world. Construction funds are dedicated to that at the state level. The University can't dip into construction money to cover GRA stipends. It also makes no sense to go bargain shopping for a university president when her salary is a slight fraction of the University's admin budget. I know this all sounds swell on a picket sign -- to compare the utterly unrelated -- but it only muddies the water. Speaking as a former U of M grad student, a former employee of the AFT-MI and most importantly a state of Michigan taxpayer (instead of tax taker) I have a difficult time seeing how being paid to pursue a graduate degree is somehow exploitive. You don't want to be exploited by the evil University? DON'T ACCEPT AN APPOINTMENT. Get a job and pay for your own education or take out a loan for it. Seems fairly clear cut to me!

Stuart Brown

Sun, Mar 4, 2012 : 5:38 a.m.

Where would the money come from? How about paying the admins less? How about not spending $485/sq-ft for construction costs? No wonder Mary Sue stood up the President when he last visited: she makes over $700K/year while the POTUS gets a lot less. The real reason was because he said that Universities that raise tuition and fees too fast should have their funding reduced. This shows the level of arrogance that exists at the top of the University.


Sun, Mar 4, 2012 : 2:47 a.m.

Mike, for a business student you sure undervalue yourself!

Mike Palazzolo

Sun, Mar 4, 2012 : 1:36 a.m.

&quot;People who generate tens of millions in revenue for an employer have a simple title: employees. To replace all 2,100 of them in the classroom and labs with regular faculty would cost the University of Michigan close to half a billion dollars&quot; I don't generate any revenue at all for Michigan. Maybe others do. But I suspect, on average, we students actually get taken care of pretty well. It would probably be a lot cheaper for the university to replace all students with employees, because then they (a) no longer have to teach courses for these students, (b) no longer have to invest energy helping them with the students' research, (c) no longer have to worry about stipends or the various other sources of funding that are designed to help us survive while we study, and are in no way tied to anything resembling work, and (d) no longer need to worry about tuition costs. Do you really think most grad students produce profit for the university? I really don't think we do. Maybe some departments do, but I would be willing to wager that for the majority of the social sciences this isn't the case.


Sat, Mar 3, 2012 : 11:46 p.m.

Ms. Lesko, I am very much in favor of the lecturers organizing and in the way they have. The provide a valuable service to the University which I believe is still undervalued by the University, if their paychecks are any indication. I am frequently appalled by their treatment by the University. I would like to know, however, what schools offer stipends at the $30K/year rate you mention. I am not sure about the U-M business school and the wage the author quotes, but in the College of Engineering, we make, with little variation as far as I am aware, about $25K/year (pretax) currently, plus benefits, with some fellowships offering greater than that.


Sat, Mar 3, 2012 : 11:30 p.m.

Patricia, It is well documented that you are for unions and believe strongly in them. But I do have to ask one simple question: If the union increased the grad students wages by 38% or if one's stipend goes from $17,000 to $30,000 how does a university make up that difference? To pay those wages/stipends, the money must come from somewhere. So where does it come from? Answer: From higher tuition costs, higher room and board fees, higher costs on pretty much everything at the university. It's either that or they use fewer researchers. So students who are already struggling to pay for college must struggle even more because of unions. Nice


Sat, Mar 3, 2012 : 11:27 p.m.

Wait, what? I think a more logical statement would be: Against abortion? Don't have one. Against the union? Don't join one. Unfortunately we don't have the option (yet) of joining the union or not if the GEO wins the election.


Sat, Mar 3, 2012 : 10:11 p.m.

Some of us already make 30k.... do you still not see the problem?


Sat, Mar 3, 2012 : 7:31 p.m.

If the majority of graduate assistants feel the way Mr. Palazzolo does, then unionization is a moot point. The GSAs will simply vote down the proposal, plain and simple. What I don't understand is why the state legislature feels that it needs to defend Mr. Palazzolo and others like him against the wishes of other graduate students. If the vote for unionization passes, then his views are clearly in the minority and should not hold sway over the entire student body. GSAs are more like apprentices than students anyway - they are paid to assist skilled practitioners so that they may acquire that skill set themselves. If unionization interferes with the relationship between a grad student and professor, isn't the same true about the relationship between a journeyman and a master electrician? I don't get it.

Mike Palazzolo

Sun, Mar 4, 2012 : 1:32 a.m.

There's an additional, separate issue, which is that we are not all the same. A GSRA in one program has an entirely different experience than GSRAs in others.Why should students whose &quot;jobs&quot; are not remotely related to mine get to choose whether I unionize? I won't necessarily defend the legislature's actions, but honestly, given that my department doesn't have the right to decide for itself, independent of other departments, I welcome those actions.

John Spelling

Sat, Mar 3, 2012 : 6:19 p.m.

Let's put right-to-work to a vote. If it passes then everyone is happy. GEO forms a union and it's Mike's choice whether to join.


Sun, Mar 4, 2012 : midnight

I agree, let's put RTW to a vote. I have a strong suspicion Michigan voters would squash that debate once and for all. There's a poll in a recent article on regarding this issue. Although not scientific, the overwhelming majority (74% of 3,909 voters) believe Michigan should not be a RTW state. <a href="" rel='nofollow'></a>

Usual Suspect

Sat, Mar 3, 2012 : 10:43 p.m.

&quot;gets to enjoy all of the benefits of union representation on someone else's dime.&quot; ... and he wouldn't be asking anybody to represent him.

John Spelling

Sat, Mar 3, 2012 : 10:07 p.m.

@John Q - No, not &quot;in other words.&quot; Please define benefits and then tell us that these &quot;benefits&quot; won't come at the expense of other, perhaps less tangible, benefits GSA's now enjoy and value.

John Q

Sat, Mar 3, 2012 : 7:24 p.m.

In other words, Mike gets to enjoy all of the benefits of union representation on someone else's dime.


Sat, Mar 3, 2012 : 5:29 p.m.

It must be nice to be a GSRA in the business school, where GSRA appointments can, depending on the student and supervisor, be de facto fellowships with minimal research requirements. Such is not the case in the majority of other university departments. The author should talk to people outside departments before coming down so hard on a union.

Mike Palazzolo

Sun, Mar 4, 2012 : 6:50 a.m.

Uh, no, johnnya2 that's not remotely close to what I was saying. I said that I wanted people to vote for what they think is best. Some people might be kind-hearted and not want to vote against a union if they think a lot of people are suffering. The union has tried very hard to sell this narrative and to squash those of us who don't want to unionize. We have the right to vote as we see fit, and we have the right to have our opinion count. Period.


Sun, Mar 4, 2012 : 5:56 a.m.

Mike, So basically you are saying people in other departments are too stupid to know what is best for them because you have it easy?

Mike Palazzolo

Sun, Mar 4, 2012 : 1:30 a.m.

It's also true that the stories the union is telling aren't representative of the majority of departments. I told my story to prevent people from being guilt-tripped into thinking every student is starving to death. If we ever vote, and everyone votes *strictly based on whether they would benefit from a union*, I'd be curious to see how the vote turns out.


Sat, Mar 3, 2012 : 5:08 p.m.

You &quot;want only to be left alone to do [your] research,&quot; but you have been actively involved in a campaign that has disenfranchised thousands of GSRAs across the state? &quot;Worse, they tried to intimidate me. They warned me that there's technically nothing stopping the university from taking away my benefits. But with the GEO's protection, I would be safe from such dastardly maneuvers!&quot; And how in the world is this intimidation? The organizer's point is factual and one of the primary reasons that a union is useful: working conditions and compensation that are guaranteed by a contract. As someone who has been held by his advisor in captive audience meetings in which I was ordered to stop volunteering for the union and to vote no I'm offended that you would try to pass this off as equal in any way.

Mike Palazzolo

Sun, Mar 4, 2012 : 7:05 a.m.

Ha, just realized I made a typo. *don't condone (obviously) =)

Mike Palazzolo

Sun, Mar 4, 2012 : 1:28 a.m.

&quot;but you have been actively involved in a campaign that has disenfranchised thousands of GSRAs across the state?&quot; Speaking out is a necessary action--if I don't, I may not be left alone. &quot;As someone who has been held by his advisor in captive audience meetings in which I was ordered to stop volunteering for the union and to vote no I'm offended that you would try to pass this off as equal in any way.&quot; If that's really happened, that is highly unfortunate, and I certainly condone that sort of behavior, but that's separate from the issue of whether the GEO is trying to push this fact in an intimidating manner. If you think they're just trying to sell benefits, that's your opinion. I personally think they're trying to make people nervous. I'm not saying they're utterly evil and dastardly, but I think they have an agenda (which may, I concede, even be based on a misguided but kind-hearted perception that they can help us all if we'd just relent), and they'll push that any way they can.


Sat, Mar 3, 2012 : 5:03 p.m.

You're either a Christian or atheist, which is it? Opps'


Sat, Mar 3, 2012 : 4:57 p.m.

I think the real issue here is narcissism vs. collectivism plan and simple.


Sat, Mar 3, 2012 : 4:39 p.m.

You're either a student or a worker. Which is it?

John Q

Sat, Mar 3, 2012 : 7:23 p.m.

It's been stated that they get a W-2. Sounds like a worker in my book.


Sat, Mar 3, 2012 : 6:25 p.m.

Employee or student studying toward a Master's or a PhD? Do we want all our students forming unions? Classes too hard? Food not good enough? Teacher too hard? Let's have some boundaries here!

Jason Kosnoski

Sat, Mar 3, 2012 : 4:14 p.m.

What is ironic about the above is that although the author states he is &quot;repulsed&quot; by the so called PR campaign of the union, the piece is rife with PR speak and contains sloppy analysis. For example how is an organizer's statement that benefits could be taken away by the administration &quot;intimidation&quot; -- the union isn't going to take anything away. Does the author not know the meaning of the term? Furthermore why is an honest statement by an organizer stating they don't know what they might win in a contract a &quot;canned&quot;response? Most importantly the piece avoids the argument--even if you are against the union why would you be against allowing GSRA's to choose in a democratic process? This piece is brimming with hyperbole, reductive arguments and outright misrepresentations. Forget about being an embarrassment to the author, it is an embarrassment to the School of Business. If this is the quality of writing and analysis one finds in their Ph.D. programs, I question their curriculum and admissions policies. By the way, I am a tenured professor at UM, have a GSRA and totally support their right to choose. Jason Kosnoski Associate Professor of Political Science UM-Flint


Sun, Mar 4, 2012 : 2:21 p.m.

Mr. Kosnoski, I couldn't agree with you more and was surprised by the mediocre level of thinking and the sloppy expression of these thoughts in this article. Phd candidates shouldn't resort to slang (&quot;guilted&quot;) when they are making an argument that is intended for an educated public. Mr. Palazollo comes across as a rather naive and sheltered young man who has an immature understanding of how people wield power in the corporate and political world. If he thinks the tactics of the GEO are &quot;intimidating&quot; and &quot;dastardly&quot; I wonder how he is going to handle being fired by his first employer who no longer has a use for him. If Mr. Palazollo sent his letter to the tens of thousands of middle-aged men and women who've lost their jobs after decades of service because they didn't have an organization to fight for their interests against an employer who considered them disposable, he might have a more accurate picture of employer/employee relations. As for not being &quot;a gambling man&quot;, upon graduation Mr. Palazollo will quickly learn that without a strong union to fight for his rights, he will be gambling every day of his career with an opponent whose appetite for power is insatiable and whose disdain for the livelihood of his or her employees is unlimited. Read the papers Mr. Palazollo, the corporate world has placed a global value on labor; it's a pittance and your rights are an inconsequential part of the calculation.

Sutirtha Bagchi

Sun, Mar 4, 2012 : 1:26 a.m.

The U of M Flint website lists you as an Assistant Professor. I didn't know Assistant Professors had tenure Jason. Also when you say professor at UM, please add Flint in the future if you have any shred of intellectual honesty so as to not mislead the people into thinking that you belong to the Ann Arbor campus of U of M. Because honestly with your credentials, you would have a hard time getting in through the door as a student at U of M Ann Arbor. And as a &quot;tenured professor&quot; Hahahahahaha, that gave me a good laugh.

Mike Palazzolo

Sun, Mar 4, 2012 : 1:22 a.m.

&quot;For example how is an organizer's statement that benefits could be taken away by the administration &quot;intimidation&quot; -- the union isn't going to take anything away. Does the author not know the meaning of the term?&quot; From : &quot;to make timid or fearful&quot; From : &quot;to force into or deter from some action by inducing fear&quot; Do you understand the meaning of the word? The union would like to force us into voting yes or simply not voting no by making us fearful of the university's power over us.


Sat, Mar 3, 2012 : 5:07 p.m.

This op-ed piece was clearly written before SB971. Additionally, there are many GSRAs who are against a GSRA union but are not pleased with how this all went down. In reality, however, you can make a very strong argument that this legislation wouldn't have come to pass without the GEO making very bold and public accusations (such as the firing of Jennifer Dibbern which appears to have been nothing more than a standard academic termination which was spun wildly in an attempt to drum up public support) which required overt rebuttal from those opposed. The continued barring of SAGU and the AG from merely presenting evidence to MERC's ALJ further served to ruffle the feathers of those opposed to a GSRA union. Interestingly, I feel this would have probably easily slid under the Legislature's radar and headed for a student vote in the next few months if not for the continually shoving of the topic into the public domain by the GEO in an attempt to gain support. Regardless of how subjective my feelings on the above are, to attempt to attack the author as someone who played a significant role in SB971 and/or is overjoyed at the outcome is tremendously misguided and somewhat disgusting. And lastly, no offense intended Dr. Kosnoski, but to attack this piece as an &quot;embarrassment to the School of Business&quot; is wholly and totally unnecessary. Any and all of his points could have been made without the last paragraph. I personally thought the piece was very well-written. I would also like to point out that (at face value) Dr. Kosnoski's comment is either at or below the level of grammatical style exhibited in the editorial itself.

taxpayer united

Sat, Mar 3, 2012 : 3:36 p.m.

I was in a union and received no help. I sat back and saw the BA ( Business agent ) making over 100k a year and never saw him the last 2 years I was at the company. The company closed and moved to a more favorable state one that had right to work legislation. A secretary at the union office that I knew told me these BA's and other union officers regularly went on 2 or 3 hour wet lunches all paid for by the union. They took lavish vacations with there families all paid for by the union under the disguise of conventions. Supporters of unions you want to talk about the great unions. I will tell you of the corruption and more. You call it unions. I call it corruption, do nothing for you, take your money, do nothings.


Sat, Mar 3, 2012 : 4:51 p.m.


Stephen Landes

Sat, Mar 3, 2012 : 3:28 p.m.

Very well written and right on target.

taxpayer united

Sat, Mar 3, 2012 : 3:21 p.m.

Good for you Mike. I totally agree with you. I was in a union once and never seen so much baloney in my life. The union I was in was about as corrupt as can be. They did not care about me one bit they only cared about taking my money. When you did have a problem they would say we do not want to make any waves just shut up and go back to work. They where actually scarred of the company. You know unions at one point where good. Now they are useless and powerless and just want the money. I hope I am never in a union again.


Sat, Mar 3, 2012 : 7:42 p.m.

I never belonged to a union, but I did work for a summer in the Lifesaver plant in Holland, which was a union shop. I paid dues, but left to return to school before completing my 3-month trial period needed to join the union. The summer before, I worked in the nonunion 7-Up bottling plant in the same town. It was basically the same work, same type of industry, but the pay and conditions at the Lifesaver plant were far better. At the Lifesaver plant, I also couldn't be forced to support political positions I opposed, as happened at the bottling plant in regards to the bottle deposit law, which was on the ballot that year. So yeah, I basically like unions.


Sat, Mar 3, 2012 : 4:19 p.m.

So you are using your own experience to make assumptions about all unions? I am sorry that you were in a corrupt and ineffective union, but one anecdotal experience cannot be used to generalize.


Sat, Mar 3, 2012 : 4:02 p.m.

What union did you belong to? And what local?

Rork Kuick

Sat, Mar 3, 2012 : 2:58 p.m.

Increadibly slanted. I would take thousands of words to deconstruct all that. I'll only start with the first few paragraphs. What does Mike do? Why is he paid? From where? Oh, he forgot to say. Next he claims no forces are against unions. Is there a single person who believes that, after our state legislators, in party line votes, have tried to outlaw unions for GSRAs? Lots of people are very outspoken in being against almost any unionization. Try being more truthful Mike. Next he claims ignorance of benefits of a union. For a guy with an MBA it's mighty disingenuous. Take a look at GEO's contract why don't you. I don't have room to enumerate all the protections. It's true you could alter that contract. He claims that pointing out that his benefits are not protected by a contract is intimidation. Yeah, right. Facts. They can be intimidating. Or something. Hoping someone more expert can handle the criticism better than I. There's plenty more to work on. I would however like to point out that unions of graduate students are not unions made up of idiots, and that their contracts and actions are determined by the members, not somebody else. Can a knowledgeable person answer this: If GSRAs did want a union, does it have to be GEO? If not, it might suck all the wind out of these sails.

Mike Palazzolo

Sun, Mar 4, 2012 : 2:22 a.m.

&quot;What does Mike do? Why is he paid? From where? Oh, he forgot to say.&quot; I'm given money because my department tries to compete for the best students, and if they don't pay their students other schools certainly will. I am not paid for labor. I am a student. &quot;Next he claims no forces are against unions.&quot; Not true, I claimed that the representation that the *only* people who don't want unions are outsiders. &quot;Try being more truthful Mike.&quot; Try paying attention =) &quot;Next he claims ignorance of benefits of a union. For a guy with an MBA it's mighty disingenuous. Take a look at GEO's contract why don't you.&quot; The contract guarantees nothing I wouldn't already get from my department or Rackham that I have any interest in. What I actually said was that they could not give me an answer to the question &quot;what will I get that I don't already.&quot; &quot;He claims that pointing out that his benefits are not protected by a contract is intimidation. &quot; It's not just pointing out facts. They pointed this out to me, I told them it was unrealistic to think that my benefits would ever be taken away, and they tried to convince me otherwise. What would you call that? &quot;Their contracts and actions are determined by the members, not somebody else.&quot; Not entirely true--we will owe a fee to the AFT that is determined by them, not us. I would imagine it would me mighty difficult to disassociate ourselves from the AFT without a huge and costly legal battle (Somewhat rightfully so--they've supported the union up until this point, and if they don't get paid for their services down the road? That would be a little unfair)

taxpayer united

Sat, Mar 3, 2012 : 3:23 p.m.

Funny I found all your words to go on and on too. I did not get a lot out of your post either. Sorry.


Sat, Mar 3, 2012 : 2:43 p.m.

Mike, I get that you are fully comfortable in your position but can you take a moment to look beyond yourself for a moment to consider that not all GSRAs may have the same cushy working relationships that you enjoy? It's all very well to argue that the GEO is just out to collect additional revenue, but as you point out, the additional revenue will amount to about half a million dollars annually. Really, this &quot;pernicious&quot; organization (as you would define it) is just doing this to net an extra half-million dollars? If we were talking about millions of dollars, then perhaps your argument would have some teeth. The truth is not all GSRAs are as lucky as you are, so instead of thinking about your own selfish needs, try to think of others as well. Furthermore, the whole issue about unionization was to be put to the vote (before the blatant politicization of the issue by the GOP). It's not like the GEO was arbitrarily going to impose unionization on you and your fellow GSRAs, so if you really do support the rights of employees to unionize then why are you against the rights of your fellow GSRAs to make that choice? And just to clarify where I stand, yes I am a Ph.D student also at UM, but I am not a GSRA, so I really have no skin in this game. (I am on a fellowship - Rackham Merit) but just because I am lucky enough not to have to deal with such issues does not mean that I should put blinders on and assume that everyone else enjoys the same privilege. Give the collective GSRA body the right to decide. If it is truly as you say that most GSRAs enjoy comfortable, harmonious relationships within their departments and research labs, then you should have nothing to worry about right? They can all vote to reject GEO membership.


Sun, Mar 4, 2012 : 5:13 p.m.

scenedujour, my comment about the humanities was purely an example. I believe in exhibiting a sense of personal responsibility. If you are in a Ph.D. program, it's a little ridiculous to think about how much hardship you are experiencing. Seriously? You're already better off than the vast majority of this nation's population, never mind the rest of the world. How much longer into your adult life is someone going to have to hold your hand? My path through graduate school has not been entirely without incident. I have changed labs, had a lapse in funding, had to start all over again with new research, etc. Yeah, it wasn't really fun and it wasn't really easy, but I do not see why anyone other than me should be responsible for my success in higher education. It's not YOUR fault or your COLLECTIVE fault that I initially chose an adviser that wasn't well suited to my personality and goals, nor is it your fault that I parted with that adviser at an unfortunate time and this affected my funding situation. If it is anyone's fault, it's mine, and more importantly, it's MY problem, and I solved it because I'm a goddamn adult and don't need to have my hand held through every freaking misfortune. I don't care about unions, but it pisses me off that for some reason I have to be held even partially responsible for other people's problems. This is GRADUATE SCHOOL. THINK about it. It's a privilege, not a right, to even be allowed to attempt it. I am not your mother, and it's not my job to clean up your messes, even if you don't think they are your fault.


Sun, Mar 4, 2012 : 5:41 a.m.

Illika, it's quite obvious that you and I have very different values and outlook on life in general, so this is probably a futile endeavor. As I mentioned earlier, whether the GSRAs unionize or not, has no bearing on my own circumstances. I am FORTUNATE to be on a fellowship that covers my entire program. Did I work hard to get here? Certainly but at the same time, I am cognizant of the fact that through some perfect conflation of circumstances I am able to enjoy these benefits, and will take full advantage of the opportunities I have been given to be fulfill my goals and be successful. At the same time, I am not going to suggest that anyone else who wasn't lucky enough to get the same benefit is lazy, or less intelligent or made poorer choices than I did. I like how you automatically assume that the GSRAs that may be facing hardships are in the Humanities. While I am not familiar with every single department in the university, my personal experience tells me that the GSRA issue has less to do with Humanities graduate students at all, since there is less of this type of research partnerships going on in those departments. So what happens is most Humanities students who are not on a fellowship have to teach, so they are GSIs not GSRAs. It seems to me that this is more of an issue for Social Science majors and the hard sciences, so are you suggesting that they also made the wrong choice? Fine, you don't like unions, that's your right, but GSRAs as a whole should be allowed the right to vote, which is what I'm trying to argue.

Mike Palazzolo

Sun, Mar 4, 2012 : 1:18 a.m.

Let me take this piece by piece: &quot;The truth is not all GSRAs are as lucky as you are, so instead of thinking about your own selfish needs, try to think of others as well.&quot; Aren't we all thinking about our own selfish needs? You want my money to help you earn more. How is that not selfish? And note that I didn't actually say everyone should be opposed to unions, I was trying to shed light on the fact that this story the GEO sells about all of us wanting one is nonsense. &quot;It's not like the GEO was arbitrarily going to impose unionization on you and your fellow GSRAs,&quot; Actually, I believe they did. I couldn't find a cite for this in time, so I didn't include, but I've heard a lot of people say that in the last negotiation with the University, they tried to absorb us without our permission. &quot;so if you really do support the rights of employees to unionize then why are you against the rights of your fellow GSRAs to make that choice?&quot; I support the right of employees to unionize if they want to. I could be forced to by others, which I'm less fond of. I'm of the mind that I'm not an employee, but if others are employees, I never said I didn't begrudge them the right to vote--I said I would vote &quot;no&quot; and anyone else who wants to should also vote &quot;no,&quot; and not be guilt tripped into keeping silent. &quot;Give the collective GSRA body the right to decide.&quot; This wasn't really the topic of what I wrote at all, but why should others get to decide for my department given how different our &quot;working conditions&quot; are? &quot;If it is truly as you say that most GSRAs enjoy comfortable, harmonious relationships within their departments and research labs, then you should have nothing to worry about right? They can all vote to reject GEO membership.&quot; True, unless the GEO convinces each individual who opposes the union that they're not representative of the whole. I just asked for people to vote their conscience and not be swayed


Sat, Mar 3, 2012 : 11:30 p.m.

In actuality, GEO DID try to absorb us (GSRAs) into GEO, but that was rejected by, I believe, the University administration. Only after that did the campaign for a unionization referendum begin. I'd like to add that I'm a GSRA and have been for several years already. And while I don't support our unionization, as I have serious doubts about their ability to improve our position or plight, I do support unions in general, as well as our status as employees, rather then students, and hence our right to put it to a vote. I personally feel that the actions of the state legislature in this matter are heinous, partisan, and antidemocratic.


Sat, Mar 3, 2012 : 8:28 p.m.

I don't know about the rest of you, but I actually went to grad school purely to serve my own selfish needs of furthering my education so that, as someone else pointed out, I can join that pesky 1%,, soooo... keep your union away from me, please. Call me whatever names you like, but I seriously don't care if some poor person choosing to pursue a degree in the humanities doesn't get as nice of a deal as I do. That's YOUR poor choice and it's on YOU. I have a passionate love for French literature too, but I opted for a profession that will allow me to put food on the table because I have my priorities in order. If you don't, it's not my job to subsidize your dream world.


Sat, Mar 3, 2012 : 2:24 p.m.

This is a great opinion piece, and I thank the author for writing it. I too think that all involved in this process should get a vote, something the GOP in Lansing seems to have a huge issue with. That is the actual issue here, as I see it. Should the union be able to have the students bring up a debate and a vote. If the students have access to information and representatives then they should be able to make their own individual decisions. If the union is bad deal, and his falsely representing themselves and their abilities, then the doctorate students should be able to figure this out and vote for no union. After all, if our best and brightest are unable to determine their own fate who does the GOP think can? But, the GOP evidently has decided that THEY, and they alone, know what is best for each student.


Sat, Mar 3, 2012 : 2:12 p.m.

Mr. Palazzolo writes well and argues, beautifully I might add, for the side of management. As a soon to be PhD holder and likely a manager himself, it will soon be in his best interest to see the world through the lens of management. And, without a doubt, managers have the capacity for virtue. They also have the capacity for vice. I would argue that, in a market economy, management is perhaps predisposed to vice, and it is the minority of management practices (and practitioners) that fairly considers labor. I might further argue that management is asked (required? rewarded?) to consider many other stakeholders before they consider labor, but that's a riff for another time. Unions, for me, are hardly perfect, but they do provide a counter-friction to managerial vice. If nothing else, they force management to consider labor as a serious stakeholder, not an expendable commodity. I tend to trust human nature, but I've been around the block - apparently a few more times than Mr. Palazzolo - enough to trust human nature a lot more when it has a few external checks (like unions) keeping an eye on it!

Eugene Daneshvar

Sat, Mar 3, 2012 : 1:29 p.m.

Ok. It's time for me to write an 'open letter' now too. Here's a sneak peak: <a href="" rel='nofollow'></a>

Eugene Daneshvar

Sat, Mar 3, 2012 : 7:42 p.m.

@AMOC Thanks for your info. I am now very well informed of my IP rights which I wasn't when I started out in his lab. As my timeline on my website points out, he did have a COI committee and I did report it to that committee and my department chair. Nothing happened. It turns out that he serves on the University wide COI committee. Go figure. I am not as passionate pro-GEO as the anti-GEO people are, however, when the details of my case come out you will see that there is a missing enforcement arm to U of M's COI policies and a missing shield to protect students reporting real problems that they shouldn't have to deal with. I shouldn't have to hire an attorney to represent me, protect my rights, and protect me from retaliation. I think that GEO can serve as a 'watchdog' and an impartial representative to help students like me who have no advocates and are in compromised power-unbalanced positions. @a2citizen Sorry to disappoint your appetite for instant gratification. If you really wanted to know who the PI was you could have clicked the 'research' link on the navigation to the left. If I give any more direction I fear insulting your intelligence given your expert analysis that I am doing my research and work for &quot;riches.&quot; You got me… because the vast amount of shared profit from the licensing revenue that goes to the University and is split with the inventors has made many before me retire early. And &quot;riches&quot; are exactly what motivates me in my area of research. Not to help the disabled gain independence or abilities but cold hard cash… By having that cash today I can go find a doctor who can give me my three fingers back… Can you please give me a referral?


Sat, Mar 3, 2012 : 5:39 p.m.

You're not the first PhD candidate to have research honors taken solely by your mentor, and you won't be the last. As PhD candidate Stanley Livingstone, who figured out how to build a working cyclotron, said about Dr. Ernest Lawrence, &quot;Dr. Lawrence got the Nobel Prize, I got my PhD.&quot;


Sat, Mar 3, 2012 : 4:01 p.m.

You lose my support when you refuse to name names. To me it's like reporters using &quot;anonymous&quot; sources. As an aside, I don't think your advisor was anymore entitled to a &quot;private&quot; patent than you were. Your research and his were both funded by another source. Had you performed your research in your garage like Bill Hewlett or Dave Packard Ithink you would be entitled to the &quot;riches&quot; your patent reaped.


Sat, Mar 3, 2012 : 3:06 p.m.

Sorry - Initial acronym should read IANAL - I am NOT a lawyer.


Sat, Mar 3, 2012 : 3:05 p.m.

Eugene - IAL, but it seems clear to me that at the very least you will be able to invalidate any patent applications made by your ex-advisor using your documented ideas. This kind of incident is not, unfortunately, terribly unusual when PIs also run spin-off businesses. Which is why there are such thngs as &quot;conflict-of-interest&quot; committees. It also happens, and even more so, in the business world, where whatever you come up with, job-related or not, will be claimed by the company. Do you think being a member of a graduate student union would have helped somehow? I am especially dubious of a union where the parent organization is designed by and for K-12 teachers effectively defending the originator (vs. the mentor/supervisor/instructor) in any kind of intellectual property dispute.

Norman Alred

Sat, Mar 3, 2012 : 1:29 p.m.

You, of course, have the right to your opinion. The fact that GEO exists and is active suggests that yours is NOT the majority opinion. Likewise, while AFT is actively attempting to unionize your group, they are NOT a difficulty to be overcome. Not interested? Do not sign a card or do not vote for them. There are outsiders actively interfering in the collective bargaining area at UM. They would be the Republicans in the legislature. They would not seem to see the GEO as anything except a threat to their power and control. The recent vote to make you ineligible for union membership suggests that you strongly need someone to &quot;watch your back&quot;. These guys do not even trust their own appointees to deny you that right and felt the need for an early preemptive strike.

Mike Palazzolo

Sun, Mar 4, 2012 : 6:55 a.m.

Johnnya2, you seem to be a little on edge. Let me help. I've always voted for a Democrat, I support progressive taxation, and I support paying for police and public education. Just because I don't want to pay into every possible community pool possible doesn't mean I'm conservative. I think the GEO is a waste of time and money. I think we live in a democracy where I should get the right to decide as I see fit. I think the GEO is trying to intimidate those of us who oppose them into being silent and not voting. So I spoke up. If at some point you'd like to make a constructive contribution to this conversation, I'd be happy to engage you further. If you'd like to continue to throw a temper tantrum and attack me, that's cool to. I find it somewhat amusing.


Sun, Mar 4, 2012 : 5:48 a.m.

So basically Mike is saying, it isn't good for me, so to hell with anybody else. I do not see crime as a problem in my neighborhood, so fewer tax dollars should go to police. My roads are fine, so who cares about others. Typical brainwashing done by the right wing. Only in it for yourself.

Mike Palazzolo

Sun, Mar 4, 2012 : 1:09 a.m.

The GEO has existed for a while--at some point, it may have been useful or necessary. The market for grad students, at least in my field, seems to work pretty efficiently. So its existence doesn't indicate I'm in the minority, nor does the &quot;1,200 people signed cards&quot; argument the GEO floated--some people signed those cards because they respect others' right to vote, even if they don't want to vote &quot;yes.&quot; What you're forgetting is that if I'm not interested, and indeed my entire school isn't interested, but others whose &quot;jobs&quot; (really, schoolwork) are nothing at all like mine want to, I might be forced into it. As for Republicans in the legislature, I really don't think I need someone to protect me from them. This may sound cynical, but the vote was about unionization in general, with both parties drawing their standard lines in the sand. It didn't have much to do with the people involved at all.


Sat, Mar 3, 2012 : 1:28 p.m.

It is also a fact that by not being a dues paying member that all GSRA's will benefit from those who choose to pay. Only the few that do not want to shell out a few hundred dollars reap the benefits from the dues paying members It is fine for some to collect the benefits that are paid for by their colleagues. I wouldn't want to be in that group myself.


Sun, Mar 4, 2012 : 2:37 a.m.

@maestra27 No one can be forced to join a union, but everyone is forced to pay dues.


Sat, Mar 3, 2012 : 11:54 p.m.

@engingsra With current federal law, no one is forced to join a union. &quot;Federal law already guarantees that no one can be forced to join a union, and no one can be required to pay union dues that fund political causes they oppose.&quot; <a href="" rel='nofollow'></a>


Sat, Mar 3, 2012 : 4:51 p.m.

Dues are required whether one *officially* joins the union or not. In the case discussed above, the GEO would become the sole collective bargaining agreement, and MI is not right-to-work, unionization is mandatory.


Sat, Mar 3, 2012 : 1:17 p.m.

I would like to hear the author's thoughts on this topic if he didn't have a supportive department to work for.

Mike Palazzolo

Sun, Mar 4, 2012 : 1:04 a.m.

Your wish is my command! I actually vetted schools to make sure I would have a supportive department. No joke--I spoke to faculty at another school and asked them what programs were supportive of their students, and these faculty quite literally crossed a dozen schools off my list because they believed the faculty at those schools were not as interested in their students' success as they should be. If I had somehow chosen wrong, I would make a determination about the probability of me getting through the program and earning a job I'd be happy with without losing my sanity--if the probability was too low, I'd just quit and find another job.


Sat, Mar 3, 2012 : 1:17 p.m.

Mr. Palazzolo, I agree, you and the other Grad Assistants should have the right to vote on whether you have a Union or not. However, the GOP in Michigan is so fearful of Unions and hates Unions so much, that they are legislatively removing you and the other Grad Assistants &quot;right to choose&quot;, much like they are with womens rights, contraception, etc...There are no moderates in the GOP.

Mike K

Sun, Mar 4, 2012 : 2:10 p.m.

Ben, I doubt there are moderate liberals. Politics have never ever been as polarized as they are now. Can you read anything into that?


Sun, Mar 4, 2012 : 5:44 a.m.

Thinker, Mayeb it is time you used your screen name. If you want religious liberties, can a Rastafarian smoke pot? Can a person sacrifice virgins at an altar for the practice of their religion&gt; How about if my religion STRONGLY opposes money going to capital punishment (which the Catholics believe as well) yet the GOVERNMENT mandates that their money go to executing people. Get a clue.

John Q

Sat, Mar 3, 2012 : 7:19 p.m.

By Plublius's logic, all democracy = terrorism when a majority viewpoint wins in an election.


Sat, Mar 3, 2012 : 4:37 p.m.

The HHS mandate is not a &quot;contraceptive&quot; or &quot;Republican&quot; issue, it is a religious liberty and respect of rights of conscience issue. The efforts of the liberal left to make it about contraceptives is an obfuscation of the truth of the matter.


Sat, Mar 3, 2012 : 4:34 p.m.

The problem is that if 50.1% of the students vote for, the remaining 49.9% have to suffer. This is not democracy - it is terrorism.

Basic Bob

Sat, Mar 3, 2012 : 4:03 p.m.

Oh, and there are any moderates in the &quot;progressive&quot; community. Only power hungry unionistas finding a different way to pry money from the worker bees and middle class. Spare me the rhetoric, the GSRAs come from money and will soon join their parents and their professor friends in the one-percent.


Sat, Mar 3, 2012 : 1:05 p.m.

Regardless of whether or not you want to be in a union, the process that has developed around this issue is disturbing. On the one hand you have lawmakers passing a law that pre-empts the court based on a strictly partisan vote and on the other hand you have the Regents making a University policy to support the status of graduate students as employees and the University administration doing everything it can to defeat the effort to have a vote. This has been a corrupt and dishonest process regardless of who wins.

John Q

Sat, Mar 3, 2012 : 7:18 p.m.

As opposed to the Republican legislature and Republican governor? Let's not pretend that this is a one-sided partisan fight.


Sat, Mar 3, 2012 : 5:03 p.m.

@Stephen- That is right. This has been a very partisan issue on both sides but the point I was making was that it seems like the policy for UM should be set by the Regents and it is the President's responsibility to implement that policy not oppose it.

Stephen Landes

Sat, Mar 3, 2012 : 3:26 p.m.

You neglected to point out that the Regents action was a one party, ram it down the throats of everyone decision -- on this case a bunch of Democrats.


Sat, Mar 3, 2012 : 12:56 p.m.

Very well written. In the old days, a newspaper would have discovered and exposed these tactics.


Sat, Mar 3, 2012 : 12:29 p.m.

Unions are no different than any other special interest group... they seek money, political power etc. But on top of that they are a cancer, protecting the slothful, reducing innovation and productivity, and bankrupting private and public institutions.


Sun, Mar 4, 2012 : 5:40 a.m.

Well lets see. When union membership was at its highest what was income inequality? Now that union membership has declined since Ron Reagan we have seen the discrepancy between the haves and have not's rise. This is not coincidence. By the way, is the U, GM and any other organization is as much a &quot;special interest&quot; group. Except their special interest does not care about anything other than keeping those in power and with money in that same position. If you want proof, I suggest you look at Madoff, Ken Lay and the other &quot;organizations&quot; that have ripped off the people. By the way, innovation during the time of Eisenhower and Kennedy were at their highest. Union participation was also at its highest. So if you want to debate FACTS, let's go. Otherwise turn off Fox News and do some research


Sat, Mar 3, 2012 : 10:09 p.m.

Unions have their own issues but this is over the top and ignores why unions came to existence.


Sat, Mar 3, 2012 : 10:07 p.m.

Zeeba, I did, University of Michigan, and now some people are trying to change the rules. Why don't you tell them the same thing, and say that if they wanted to go to a program WITH a union, they should have applied THERE.


Sat, Mar 3, 2012 : 7:45 p.m.

Braggslaw - if you don't want to be in a union, then apply for a job - or graduate program - at a nonunion shop. Simple enough.


Sat, Mar 3, 2012 : 4:49 p.m.

3.5 hours and counting...

taxpayer united

Sat, Mar 3, 2012 : 3:26 p.m.

Well said I could not agree more. Thank You.


Sat, Mar 3, 2012 : 2:19 p.m.

If you do not like your job find a better job


Sat, Mar 3, 2012 : 1:55 p.m.

Unions also offer their members the right to collective bargaining to improve their working conditions, wages, benefits etc that without those rights are often undermined and cut altogether by less than caring managers and profit driven business owners.


Sat, Mar 3, 2012 : 1:16 p.m.

Once again, blanket statements like this should be supported with research and data.

Daniel J. Singer

Sat, Mar 3, 2012 : 12:15 p.m.

Well aren't you lucky that you're in such a great department? Luckily, I am too. But that doesn't mean everyone is. That's why we need a union. It is simply unfair that we lucky ones get to be comfortable while those less lucky are screwed by their departments and PIs. I don't particularly want to pay union dues either, but sometimes we ought to band together and agree to sacrifice some of our individual liberties for the security of us all. Unionizing is one way we do that. It's not an affront to your wallet. It's an issue of fairness to those less fortunate.


Sun, Mar 4, 2012 : 6:33 p.m.

You're right, Mike. No guarantees when it comes to unions. They are flawed like everything else. But unions are the yin to the corporate yang. It's about balance. I think the problem is bigger than you would believe and just because people don't raise their voice (or are afraid to), doesn't minimize the problem. In medicine, residents and med students used to routinely work 120+ hour weeks. Because that was the way it was always done. Because that's how you earned your chops and if you criticized it then you were weak. It also turns out that you would've been right. The 'joke' residents used to say was that the only problem being on call every other night was you missed half the good cases. The problem we all face in life is what to do about those who fall behind - is it their choosing, their doing, or their luck. Do we slow down to help them or do we run faster and let someone else worry about it. Getting back to the prevalence of the problem, how many students getting shafted would it take to say that a union was necessary? 1? 10? 100? Quite frankly, any one diminishes us all. It's not really about a safety net or even a helping hand; it's about basic standards that the University should really have imposed on its own. But the University ignores it or chooses not to do it because it is not in their interest and hence the purpose of the union. I am out of the game so I leave this to you and your colleagues. It's not the end of the world either way. It is, though refreshing to read your enthusiasm, confidence and optimism. They reflect the words of someone who has not yet been squashed by someone more powerful. When that comes, I am sure you will be quite resilient to it just from the courage you have shown in your open letter and in responding here. Your colleagues may not be, so all I ask is to think of them.

Mike Palazzolo

Sun, Mar 4, 2012 : 3:54 p.m.

Hi 1bit, Yes, I think the biggest disagreement we have is on prevalence (and I was really hoping more students would respond to this and speak out if they really were suffering--only one or two people have, and I'm obviously not going to conclude only they support the union), though regarding this point: &quot;Because it's the right thing to do. Because, like the military, you don't leave your own behind. Because in society and the game of life, none of us truly win when we leave our colleagues to fail.&quot; Conceptually I agree with you. The problem is, there's no guarantee the union will actually help them fix whatever problems they're facing. And even if there was such a guarantee, if the prevalence of these issues is quite small, the cost associated to unionizing for the rest of us still seems prohibitive for me. I'm not opposed to providing a safety net for people--that's one reason why I vote for Democrats and prefer progressive taxation. But this really isn't a fair or efficient way of handling a small number of cases. It's not like those of us who have things &quot;well&quot; are living like Bill Gates =).


Sun, Mar 4, 2012 : 2:49 p.m.

It might have been Benjamin Franklin who said &quot; those who sacrifice liberty for security will have neither.&quot; This is also true for STUDENTS who are getting paid to conduct research or other tasks for a University.

Nancy Jowske

Sun, Mar 4, 2012 : 2:14 p.m.

So here's a thought, Dan. Those in less-than-great departments who feel the need to be protected go ahead and voluntarily pay dues to the GEO. And when their department does them wrong they turn to the GEO to get out the bullhorns and the sidewalk chalk and make the dean's life miserable until poor candidate Doe is made whole. Or here's another thought -- those GRAs in departments of evil form a micro-unit and request that MERC follow the NLRB's recent ruling in &quot;Specialty Healthcare&quot;. Of course that's not a super-great solution for those who get their satisfaction out of rescuing the &quot;less fortunate&quot;. (whether they ask to be rescued or not) And perhaps it's not a path worth pursuing for the GEO and the AFT-MI when they probably don't have real depth of support in the departments they find most attractive -- the ones with hundreds of potential dues cows who won't be troubling them to file any grievances because they are on campus to learn and build a career, not get a job with the AFT after graduation.


Sun, Mar 4, 2012 : 12:53 p.m.

Mike, first off kudos for engaging in the discussion. The thing about unions is generally you have to be all-in or all-out. If the union negotiates a better deal for its members, then it would not be fair for you to get the same deal de facto without having paid anything for it (i.e. dues). I think we agree in some respects but disagree in the prevalence of the problem. I am speaking from a perspective of now being outside the system looking back in to it. The problem is you are in it. So are your mentors. No, there is a good chance you personally won't benefit from a union. There is a good chance many won't benefit from a union. But, the point is that it isn't all about &quot;me&quot; or &quot;you&quot;. It's about &quot;us&quot;. It's about drawing a line in the sand and saying that all PhD candidates deserve some basics. Etched in stone. Because it's the right thing to do. Because, like the military, you don't leave your own behind. Because in society and the game of life, none of us truly win when we leave our colleagues to fail.

Mike Palazzolo

Sun, Mar 4, 2012 : 4:12 a.m.

1bit, I think you're misinterpreting my position slightly, but I respect the fact that you're keeping things civil =). Let me address your items individually: &quot;Honestly, Mike, just because you don't know PhD students who have gotten shafted doesn't mean they aren't there. I've known plenty.&quot; I never said there were no students who got shafted, I just wanted to make clear that the GEO's story didn't reflect how all of us feel or how all of us are being treated. My comment about &quot;no students complaining&quot; was in reference solely to financing. If someone had something truly terrible or unfair happen to them, that really sucks. But at the same time, this happens in the real world all the time--people get crappy co-workers or bosses and get screwed. It absolutely sucks, I agree. But the notion that all departments should be forced to financially pay in to a union to protect those that get treated poorly seems unfair to me, especially given that I don't believe that the situation is as bad as you do (we are both, of course, going off limited information from the departments we're in and the departments we have friends in, or interact with regularly). &quot;The sad thing is that you've accepted it as a &quot;reality&quot; that cannot or should not be improved upon.&quot; Actually, it's not that it *cannot* or *should not* be improved upon, it's that I think it's *unlikely* to be improved upon, but taking that chance will cost a great deal of money. &quot;Just because you &quot;choose&quot; a gilded cage does not make it any less a cage where you are dependent on the kindness, or lack thereof, of you master.&quot; I'm absolutely dependent on my master. But I've chosen my master well. &quot;I, however, will not begrudge those who feel that by bargaining collectively that they will get a better deal.&quot; Nor do I, as long as I don't have to join them. My intention was to make clear that I personally do not want to join the union, and that it's ok for people to b


Sun, Mar 4, 2012 : 3:29 a.m.

I would think that, as a prospective PhD student, I would speak with current students and find out if this is a department that &quot;screws over&quot; its students or one a department that is supportive. If I fail to do that research, than that is my own, individual fault for getting myself into such a situation. I would not expect someone to negotiate on my behalf. No student is forced to work with a particular PI (primary investigator -&gt; lead researcher/the adviser of a student). Again, if I choose to work for a certain PI, then I am agreeing to work under the conditions that PI sets forth. If I do not learn about the expectations of that professor when I start to work with them and I am later unhappy, then I would accept responsibility for that and not expect someone to negotiate on my behalf. While there may exist some situations that are truly dire and border on abuse of power by a PI, I believe that there should be methods established (I would be surprised if they do not exist already) to properly address those situations. There are a lot of methods to do this that do not involve a union.


Sun, Mar 4, 2012 : 2:36 a.m.

Honestly, Mike, just because you don't know PhD students who have gotten shafted doesn't mean they aren't there. I've known plenty. The sad thing is that you've accepted it as a &quot;reality&quot; that cannot or should not be improved upon. Just because you &quot;choose&quot; a gilded cage does not make it any less a cage where you are dependent on the kindness, or lack thereof, of you master. I, however, will not begrudge those who feel that by bargaining collectively that they will get a better deal.

Mike Palazzolo

Sun, Mar 4, 2012 : 1 a.m.

Here's the thing--how many of us are &quot;lucky&quot; and how many of us are &quot;unlucky&quot;? I suspect the proportion is not what the GEO would have us believe. Additionally, this isn't like progressive taxation, where the extremely well off are asked to help those that are suffering. This is effectively the poor asking for financial insurance from the slightly less poor. And that's not really accurate--everyone who is a grad student has the capability of getting a job that pays better. We've come here knowing full well the sacrifices, financial and otherwise, expected of us because we wish to pursue a career we're passionate about. We suffer by choice. We're not comparable to people who haven't had the educational benefits that we have, whose lives up until this point only left one path available to them, and might be a risk of abuse by large corporations who view them as disposable labor. NO grad student should be crying about being the &quot;less fortunate&quot;--there are people in this world who live on less than we do without the option to earn more.


Sat, Mar 3, 2012 : 10:07 p.m.

There are plenty of PhD candidates who get hosed by their mentors. It's so ingrained in the system that it becomes accepted.


Sat, Mar 3, 2012 : 6:50 p.m.

Daniel, I once had the same view you did. I was willing to sacrifice a little if it meant that other students would have it much better. But then I realized there weren't any students suffering.


Sat, Mar 3, 2012 : 5:17 p.m.

While I am mildly squeamish about a comment like &quot;agree to sacrifice some of our individual liberties for the security of us all&quot; I would be more amenable to voting &quot;yes&quot; on a union if there was documented proof of these &quot;less lucky ones&quot; who are &quot;screwed by their departments and PIs.&quot; Ex: the GEO has continually used the example &quot;a student's mother died and they were told they couldn't leave the lab&quot; in making their rounds trying to drum up support among students. When I have pressed them for details on this and similar scare-inducing anecdotes they have deftly dodged the question and continually reminded me that &quot;specifics are not necessary, this case could happen to anyone.&quot; I am involved with many groups on campus and know a large and diverse fraction of GSRAs across most disciplines. Not one of them has ever expressed this kind of significant oppression to me (even in social settings) which makes it extremely hard to buy into the notion that there is a large but silent group of students at UM who are essentially slaves to the system and would be freed by a union.


Sat, Mar 3, 2012 : 11:25 a.m.

Mike, I totally agree with you. Students should have the right to choose. You indicate a general support for unions at some level. What was once necessary protection has become slick campaigns to find members, and most importantly, the dollars that go along with membership. This is about money. Not for students, but for union leadership. It is very sad. If their voices are allowed to be heard, the majority of other intelligent UM students will also say &quot;no&quot; to unionization.