Senate bans graduate assistants from unionizing

The Senate acted quickly on Wednesday to make sure graduate student research assistants wouldn’t have a say in whether they could unionize or not. SB 971 was introduced last week, passed on a party-line vote by the Government Operations Committee on Tuesday and passed on the Senate floor on a 26-12 party line vote on Wednesday.

Currently, graduate assistants at the University of Michigan are trying to unionize and have applied to the Michigan Employment Relations Commission (MERC) to hold a union vote. If they’re successful, they will overturn a 1981 MERC ruling that says graduate research assistants are students. MERC has yet to rule on the application.

Senate Majority Leader Randy Richardville (R-Monroe) sponsored SB 971, noting that the Legislature needed to move on the issue, regardless of what MERC does. Republicans claim that research assistants are students—not employees.

SB 971 would amend PERA’s definition of a “public employee” to exclude the research assistants. But, this proposed legislation does more than that. These individuals would be stripped of their right to vote for a union and ultimately deprived of any collective bargaining rights.

U of M Board of Regents voted to oppose SB 971.

Senate Minority Leader Gretchen Whitmer (D-East Lansing) compared the bill to the Emergency Manager law and said, “This continues a theme from the majority party. If you don’t like the outcome of an election, change the rules.”