News Story

The Michigan Employment Relations Commission Unanimously Rejects Unionization of U of M Graduate Student Research Assistants

As Mackinac Center requested, commission stands by its 1981 ruling that these student researchers are not public employees

For Immediate Release
Monday, Aug. 8, 2011
Contact: Patrick J. Wright
Director, Mackinac Center Legal Foundation
Michael D. Jahr
Vice President for Communications, Mackinac Center for Public Policy

MIDLAND — The Michigan Employment Relations Commission this morning rejected by a 3-0 vote a petition by the Graduate Employees Organization to unionize graduate student research assistants at the University of Michigan. In delivering the decision, MERC cited a 1981 ruling in which it had already held that these students were not public employees and were therefore outside its jurisdiction.

Mackinac Center Legal Foundation Director Patrick J. Wright praised the decision as “a victory for the rule of law,” remarking: “MERC enforced the law, rather than allowing a politically divided U of M Board of Regents to bypass it through a hasty resolution. This resolution called for a public employee union election for a group of students who weren’t public employees in the first place. The regents have no legal authority to expand the statutory definition of public employees.”

The MCLF, citing the 1981 MERC precedent, had filed a motion with MERC on behalf of U of M graduate student research assistant Melinda Day. The motion sought to allow Day to participate in MERC’s deliberations on the union petition.

Responding to MERC’s ruling, Day said: “This is a welcome sign that not everyone is willing to toss aside the rights of students in order to appease special interests. The Board of Regents betrayed me and the rest of the graduate students they were supposed to defend, and our concerns were treated as either trivial or extremist. Now, both of the major Detroit newspapers and the Michigan Employment Relations Commission have agreed with U of M’s president: We’re not public employees, and we’re not subject to forced unionization.”

Wright noted that MERC, while upholding the MCLF’s primary argument, rejected the MCLF’s motion to participate in the deliberations. “But the ability to intervene is crucial,” he added. “As I told the commission at the hearing today, in some cases the public employer may choose to champion unionization when in fact the unionization is illegal, as we see here with the U of M Board of Regents or with the Granholm administration in the home-based day care union case. Individuals whose rights are about to be violated should have some platform at MERC to voice their objections and protect their rights before an illegal unionization takes place.”

Wright said he expects the union to file a motion for reconsideration at MERC or possibly to take the case to court. “If so,” he said, “the MCLF will continue the fight.”


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