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Snyder signs bill that prohibits U of M graduate research assistant union

U of M GEO
Members of the Graduate Employees Organization picketing on the North Campus of the University of Michigan in 2008. Many University administrators and deans maintain these research assistants are not "employees."

The issue of whether University of Michigan graduate student research assistants (GSRAs) can unionize has been put to rest. Governor Rick Snyder signed a bill today saying U of M research assistants are not employees and therefore do not have the right to unionize.

The bill was introduced to the legislature by Republican Senate Majority Leader Randy Richardville.

The Michigan Employment Relations Committee (MERC) was currently holding an administrative hearing to make its own determination on the issue.

Liz Rodrigues is with GEO, the union that represents grad student instructors and staff assistants at U of M. She says the new law violates due process:

"There was already a procedure in place to determine whether or not GSRAs could be considered public employees, and that procedure was ongoing thru the Michigan Employment Relations Commission," explains Rodrigues. "By signing this legislation, Governor Snyder stopped the MERC process in its tracks."

Governor Snyder issued a statement saying a GSRA union would alter the relationship between students and teachers, and risk the educational mission of universities.

The University of Michigan Regents voted last month to oppose the Senate bill that would prohibit certain U of M graduate students from joining a union. The regents and U of M President Mary Sue Coleman held an emergency meeting by phone to talk about Republican Randy Richardville’s proposal (S.B. 971) to bar U of M graduate student research assistants (GSRAs) from unionizing.

Last May, the U of M Board of Regents voted 6 to 2 to recognize the university's roughly 2,200 GSRAs as public employees with the right to vote to form a union.

The Michigan Employment Relations Commission found otherwise in a 1981 ruling. U of M's Graduate Employees Organization (GEO) hoped to use the MERC hearing to overturn that ruling.

Jennifer is a reporter for Michigan Radio's State of Opportunity project, which looks at kids from low-income families and what it takes to get them ahead. She previously covered arts and culture for the station, and was one of the lead reporters on the award-winning education series Rebuilding Detroit Schools. Prior to working at Michigan Radio, Jennifer lived in New York where she was a producer at WFUV, an NPR station in the Bronx.
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