U-M graduate student research assistants move toward unionizing

By David Jesse

Detroit Free Press

(MCT)

Nov. 08–A group of University of Michigan graduate student research assistants took a small step toward forming a union today.

According to a spokeswoman for the campaign, the Michigan Employment Relations Commission extended a discussion on overturning a 1981 decision barring them from organizing to its meeting in December.

“Two out three commissioners stated their belief that facts have changed substantially since 1981 and that they are therefore strongly in favor of reconsideration and sending this to administrative law judge for hearing,” Caren Weinhouse, a spokeswoman for the group of GSRA’s looking to organize as a union, said in an e-mail to the Free Press. “No decision was made today; this was a ‘discussion item’ rather than an ‘action item’. This item will be revisited at the December 13 meeting in Detroit.”

“We are pleased that MERC is reconsidering their August decision and, as timely process is part of democracy, we hope that the reconsideration will be expeditious.”

MERC staff will draw formal orders on both sides of the issue in time for the commission’s next meeting.

The GSRAs have been trying to get MERC to overturn a 1981 ruling that labeled them as students, not employees. If they aren’t classified as employees, they can’t form a union.

Earlier this year, U-M’s Board of Regents voted 6-2 in a straight party line vote to recognize the GSRAs as employees, over the strenuous objections of U-M President Mary Sue Coleman.

Also fighting the move is another group of GSRAs, represented by the Mackinac Center for Public Policy. However, MERC commissioners did not feel that these GSRAs should be granted standing to intervene in the case.

“If that’s the way things go, it leaves our clients in a very difficult position because nobody is being allowed to argue their positions,” said the Mackinac Center’s Patrick Wright. “Who is going to cross-examine any witnesses the administrative judge brings forward? Who is going to stand up for my 371 clients who don’t feel they belong in a union. It should never to go to a vote.”

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Posted by Tribune News Services

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