Michigan Law Ensures Graduate Students Cannot be Unionized

Published March 28, 2012

Michigan Gov. Rick Snyder (R) has signed into law an amendment to Michigan’s public labor law statutorily confirming that graduate student research assistants at state universities are not government employees.

This clarification of what had been considered settled law for 30 years was a victory for students and for the rule of law, according to Patrick Wright, director of the Mackinac Center Legal Foundation.

“This was not only a question of law, but one of common sense,” said Wright, who represented more than 370 students in a case to prevent graduate student research assistants from being treated as government employees for the purposes of collective bargaining. Snyder signed the bill into law on March 13.

‘People Pursuing Degrees are Students’

“People pursuing graduate degrees are clearly students, not government employees. Our clients look forward to getting back to their studies and research, free from the looming threat of forced unionization,” Wright said.

Melinda Day, a graduate research assistant in the Molecular, Cellular and Developmental Biology Department at the University of Michigan, and a client of the MCLF in this case, was elated when she heard the bill had been signed.

“It’s a relief,” said Day, who was one of the first students to stand up to the U-M Board of Regents’ decision to allow student research assistants to vote to unionize even though a longstanding legal ruling determined they were students and not eligible for collective bargaining. “Now I can get back to the real reason I’m at the University of Michigan — to pursue my doctoral degree as a graduate student.”

“The law has finally been upheld and we’re seen for what we are, students and not employees,” said Adam Duzik, president of Students Against GRSA Unionization, which was represented by the MCLF.

Would Have Doubled Union Revenues

The Graduate Employees Organization, the union that sought to represent the U-M GRSAs, stood to more than double its membership and more than double its dues — to more than $1 million annually.

Wright said the law should eliminate any further question about the students’ status, but added that he would continue to monitor developments surrounding the case.

Michael Jahr ([email protected]) is vice president for communications at the Mackinac Center for Public Policy in Midland, Mich.