Michigan Employment Relations Commission Rules Again that Graduate Student Research Assistants Cannot be Unionized

‘Recognized that our clients are students and not employees’

For Immediate Release
June 20, 2014
Ted O'Neil
Media Relations Manager

MIDLAND —The Michigan Employment Relations Commission Thursday agreed with the Mackinac Center Legal Foundation and ruled that graduate student research assistants at Michigan’s public universities are not public employees and therefore cannot be forced to join a public-sector union. Commissioners unanimously agreed to uphold MERC’s 1981 ruling in which it held that GSRAs were students, not university employees, making them outside the jurisdiction of Michigan’s Public Employment Relations Act.

 “We’re pleased that MERC recognized that our clients are students and not employees,” said Patrick J. Wright, vice president for legal affairs. “They were simply trying to further their education.”

The MCLF in 2011 agreed to represent about 370 GSRAs at the University of Michigan who objected to attempts to force them into a union. MERC in August 2011 ruled the same as it did Thursday, saying GSRAs could not be unionized. But in December 2011, MERC reversed itself while at the same time rejecting a motion filed by the MCLF to represent the group known as “Students Against GSRA Unionization.”

In 2012 Gov. Rick Snyder signed into law an amendment to PERA clarifying that GSRAs were not university employees. A federal district judge later ruled that Public Act 45 was unconstitutional and therefore unenforceable. That ruling is under appeal.

“We’ve seen public-sector unions trying to stretch the bounds of public employment in order to skim dues from more and more people and this was another attempt on their part,” Wright said. “It happened with home-based day care providers, home-based caregivers and the GSRAs. We’re glad we helped bring each of them to an end.”

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