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Mackinac Center Legal Foundation Files Motion at Court of Appeals in U-M Student Unionization Case

The Mackinac Center Legal Foundation today filed a motion for immediate consideration at the Michigan Court of Appeals in Grand Rapids, asking the court to force the Michigan Employment Relations Commission to allow the MCLF to represent hundreds of graduate student research assistants at the University of Michigan who object to being forced into a union.

MERC voted 2-1 on Dec. 13, 2011, to reject a motion filed by the MCLF on behalf of the 370-member “Students Against GRSA Unionization.” MERC assigned the case to an administrative law judge, who will determine if the Graduate Employees Organization can conduct a vote to unionize the students. As it stands now, only the union and the university will be allowed testify before the ALJ, meaning only pro-union testimony will be given.

“Our clients are being denied due process,” said MCLF Director Patrick Wright. “That’s why we decided to take this to the Court of Appeals. Such a one-sided hearing would trample our clients’ rights. These students are not university employees. They are not public employees and therefore are not subject to unionization.”

This is not the first time MERC has addressed this issue.

“MERC already decided this in 1981, involving this very same group of students,” Wright added. “After 19 days and thousands of exhibits and hundreds of pages of legal briefs, the commission ruled that graduate student research assistants are students, period. The facts have not changed since 1981 and neither MERC nor the GEO have shown the facts to have changed.”

Regents at U-M voted 6-2 along party lines last May to allow the GEO to pursue the unionization, disregarding objections from President Mary Sue Coleman. A letter signed by the deans of 19 of the 20 colleges and schools within the university and sent to Provost Phlip Hanlon said the deans had concerns about the “potential negative impacts that would result from” such a unionization.

“This was ultimately about political considerations and money, rather than what is in the best interests of the university,” Wright said. “The GEO stands to take about $1 million in dues a year from these students if they are successful, and the GEO, it should be noted, is affiliated with the American Federation of Teachers.

The MCLF filed its first motion with MERC last July, opposing the election on behalf of Melinda Day, a graduate student research assistant at U-M. At the time, MERC upheld the law, rejecting the GEO’s petition to hold a union vote.

“They even cited the 1981 ruling,” Wright said. “Obviously they recognize the precedence. Nothing has changed since 1981 and nothing has changed since August.”

Michigan Attorney General Bill Schuette, who also saw his motion to intervene rejected by MERC last month, was also to file an emergency appeal in Grand Rapids today. The attorney general’s office, however, is not seeking to represent any individual students or the MCLF’s clients, but rather the interests of the state of Michigan.

Michigan Capitol Confidential is the news source produced by the Mackinac Center for Public Policy. Michigan Capitol Confidential reports with a free-market news perspective.