Hundreds of students at the University of Michigan who object to being forced into a union were denied their right to be heard in court.
The Michigan Employment Relations Commission by a 2-1 vote yesterday assigned the controversial unionization issue involving graduate student research assistants at U-M to an administrative law judge while at the same time rejecting a motion filed by the Mackinac Center Legal Foundation on behalf of the 370-member “Students Against GRSA Unionization.” The administrative law judge will conduct a hearing to determine if the Graduate Employees Organization, a government union affiliated with the American Federation of Teachers, can conduct a unionization vote.
“This is a denial of due process,” said Patrick Wright, director of the MCLF. “A one-sided hearing like this tramples our clients’ rights.”
Wright said an appeal is likely.
“The union and the employer are collaborating,” Wright said. “The rights of our clients cannot be protected if the only people allowed to testify agree that the forced unionization should occur.”
The U-M Board of Regents in June voted 6-2 to allow the GEO to pursue the unionization, despite objections from university President Mary Sue Coleman. A letter sent to Provost Philip Hanlon and signed by the deans of 19 of the 20 schools and colleges at U-M expressed concern about the “potential negative impacts that would result from” this unionization.
If the unionization takes place, the GEO stands to double its membership and more than double its dues to over $1 million.
MERC in 1981 held a hearing on this exact same matter involving the exact same group of students. After 19 days involving thousands of exhibits and hundreds of pages of legal briefs, the commission ruled that the graduate student research assistants were students, not university employees, and therefore not subject to unionization.
The MCLF’s motion asked MERC to stand by its earlier ruling. In July, the MCLF filed its first motion opposing the election on behalf of U-M graduate student research assistant Melinda Day.
MERC upheld the law in August by rejecting the GEO’s original petition, but at the same time also rejected the MCLF’s motion to participate on behalf of Day in the deliberations. The GEO responded with a motion for reconsideration, which was the impetus for today’s hearing. Michigan Attorney General Bill Schuette also filed a motion to intervene in the case, but today’s ruling also bars his office from further involvement.
Wright noted that the state of Ohio has a law preventing graduate students from being unionized. Michigan policymakers could prevent these and future students from forced unionization efforts with legislation that explicitly precludes it.
“It’s time that the Legislature and governor get involved,” Wright said. “MERC has demonstrated its willingness to disregard the rights of those directly affected by unionization efforts.”
For more information about the case, visit www.mackinac.org/15467.