Michigan Liberal blog: “Bill Schuette wastes taxpayer dollars trying to stop a union election”
“I don’t remember Mike Cox being so overty partisan, which means that all huffing and puffing aside, Bill Schuette is establishing a pattern that would make him the most partisan attorney general in Michigan history.
Allowing University of Michigan graduate student research assistants to unionize would “significantly damage” U-M and harm all Michigan residents, Michigan Attorney General Bill Schuette said in a brief filed this week to the Michigan Employment Relations Commission.
Schuette wants MERC to uphold a 1981 ruling that the GSRAs are students, not employees, and shouldn’t be allowed to form a union when the commission decides on the issue later this month.
Let’s break this down, okay.
First off, contrary to the tenor expressed in this morning’s Detroit News editorial, there are lots of graduate assistant unions across the country. And, there are even a bunch of them in the state of Michigan. CMU’s graduate assistants organized themselves a couple of years back while the university’s temporary faculty (adjuncts, to all of you over the age of 30), for example. And, graduate assistants overall on U of M’s campus are themselves organized.
Second, the fact that U of M’s president objects to the formation of yet another bargaining unit is neither novel nor a compelling argument in opposition to letting these people organize. Despite lofty rhetoric about valuing their employees, university administrations have the same long history in opposing the formation of new unions as everyone else. They just don’t call in the Pinkertons or turn loose private security with fire hoses.
Third, the attorney general’s office isn’t representing the interests of the state of Michigan here. The state has no compelling interest to get involve. This involves 2,200 people, many of whom probably get pay and benefits from research that is ultimately privately funded. Because U of M is much more research intensive a place than most of the state’s universities (U of M is constitutionally one of three research universities with Stinking Cow College and Wayne State), the odds that you’re going to have new bargaining units pop up all over the place are incredibly remote.
Fourth, what the attorney general’s office is trying to stop here isn’t actually the formation of the union, but an election. Why? Because the numbers are pretty clear … given a shot at self-determination, U of M’s research graduate assistants would form a union. To stop the union, you have to stop the vote. So, they filed a brief with the Michigan Employment Relations Commission to prevent self-determination.
Fifth, thanks to declining state support for its university system (and for this you can thank forty years of misplaced legislative priorities that cut appropriations for the state’s public universities), university administrations have increasingly relied on temporary faculty and graduate assistants to do grunt work. They get paid slave wages, slave benefits, and are expected to do the work of tenured and tenured-track faculty. That very clearly makes them employees, and since it is a trend that has increased since the MERC last decided on this means that the MERC would be well within the bounds of reality to define graduate student research assistants as employees.
In short, the News’ editorial headline “Leave U-M lab assitants alone” is correct. The problem is that the News is ordering U of M’s lab assistants to leave themselves alone, while providing cover for the attorney general’s office to pre-empt their right to self-determination in the workplace. The News we can laugh at. Schuette, well he’s doing that on your dime.