graduate students

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The Republican-led Michigan House has approved a bill aimed at blocking unionization efforts by graduate student research assistants at public universities.

The measure was approved Thursday by a 62-45, mostly party line vote. The House hasn't yet taken a procedural "immediate effect" vote or returned the bill to the Senate, which approved the bill last month. But the measure soon could be headed to Republican Gov. Rick Snyder.

The legislation specifies that graduate student research assistants would not be considered public employees as related to collective bargaining rights.

The measure comes as University of Michigan graduate student research assistants attempt to unionize.

That case is pending before an administrative judge after the Michigan Employment Relations Commission last year reaffirmed a 1981 decision that bars research assistants from banding together.

A spokeswoman says Governor Snyder is ‘inclined’ to sign the bill into law. If he signs it, the case before the Michigan Employment Relations Commission would be moot.

University of Michigan Graduate Employees Union president Sam Montgomery had a request for Governor Snyder.

“We ask that when the bill reaches the governor’s desk that he leaves this decision in the hands of the commission which is designed to make those decisions," said Montgomery.

A majority of the U of M Regents support letting the graduate research assistants form a union.   But University president Mary Sue Coleman and many U of M professors oppose it.

University professors who support the bill say allowing their research assistants to form a union would undermine their mentor-relationship.

GEO

Yesterday, Michigan Radio's Steve Carmody reported on state legislation that would block graduate student research assistants at public universities from forming a union.

Today, the full Senate passed that measure.

From the Associated Press:

The measure was passed Wednesday by a 26-12 vote along party lines. The legislation advances to the Republican-led House.

The legislation specifies that graduate student research assistants would not be considered public employees as related to collective bargaining rights.

The bill (S.B. 971), sponsored by State Senate leader Randy Richardville (R-Monroe), was officially opposed by the University of Michigan Board of Regents in an "emergency meeting" called yesterday.

The vote to oppose the bill fell along party lines - six Democrats for, two Republicans against.

Michigan Radio's Jennifer Guerra reported U of M Regent Laurence Deitch (D) said because the Michigan Employment Relations Commission is in the middle of deciding about the union vote, "adoption of this law would be tantamount to changing the rules of the game in the middle of that game." Deitch also said the bill infringes on the University’s internal decision making processes.

Some graduate research assistants have been trying to form a union at the University of Michigan for decades.

The University of Michigan administration has long contended that the graduates assistants are students and not employees, and therefore do not have a right to form a union.

However, last May, the University of Michigan Board of Regents voted to recognize the graduate assistants as employees - moving the possibility of a vote to form a union one step closer.

Such a vote would have to be approved by the Michigan Employment Relations Commission (MERC).

But if the Senate-passed bill is signed into law, a decision by the MERC would be moot.

Steve Carmody / Michigan Radio

A group of University of Michigan graduate research assistants suffered a significant defeat today in a state senate committee. The senate Government Operations committee passed a bill that would specifically prevent university graduate research assistants from forming a union.       

Senate Majority Leader Randy Richardville says a union could interfere with the relationship between students and teachers.

“That relationship is a special relationship…it is one of learning and mentorship…and I think its important that we don’t interfere with that from the outside," Richardville said after the committee meeting.   

Samantha Montgomery is the president of the Graduate Employees Organization.  She remains optimistic that the hundreds of U of M graduate research assistants will eventually have a chance to vote on forming a union.   Montgomery says grad students like working with their professors on academic research. 

“And we are hopeful the presence of a union would help maintain that working relationship," says Montgomery. 

The Michigan Employment Relations Commission is considering the grad students’ application to hold a union vote.    But the proposed state law may make that process moot. 

Both sides accuse the other of playing politics with the issue.    Today’s vote was along partisan political lines, with three Republicans voting for the bill and two Democrats voting against. 

The results of a union vote are not certain.   A sizable number of U of M graduate research assistants signed a petition opposing a union.