Gov. to grad students: no union for you

Gov. Rick Snyder signed legislation clarifying that graduate student research assistants are not public employees, and cannot hold an election to organize.

The research assistants at the University of Michigan had petitioned to hold an election to organize. The Michigan Attorney General and the conservative-leaning Mackinac Center for Public Policy sought to intervene because the University of Michigan Board of Regents announced the university would allow the students to decide for themselves if they would join a union.

The research assistants will file suit in U.S. District Court, said attorney Mark Cousens, who represents the union, in an email to Michigan Lawyers Weekly. The litigation, he said, will raise equal protection issues and state constitutional questions over how the bill denying the students employee status was adopted.

The state Public Employment Relations Act, or PERA, defines a public employee as someone who holds a position by employment or appointment in state government, in the government of a political subdivision in the state, in a public school or in any other branch of public service.

House Bill 4246, sponsored by state Rep. Al Pscholka, R-Stevensville, adds an exception to PERA by clarifying that the position of graduate student research assistant at universities does not fit the definition of a public employee because they primarily are in school to learn from their professors and earn advanced degrees rather than to earn a wage, according to the governor’s office. However, graduate student teaching assistants are considered employees, and are unionized at the U of M.

Because they are not considered public employees, graduate research assistants are not entitled to union representation or collective bargaining rights.

The bill is Public Act 45 of 2012.

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