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Michigan is at war against research/teaching assistants

March 14, 2012
English: Michigan Gov. Rick Snyder

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There are times when, in the course of my reading, that an item comes along that I just cannot let go unaddressed.  This is just one such item.

Rick Snyder, Michigan’s governor, today signed into law a bill that outlaws attempts of teaching assistants at public universities to unionize.   Read that again…slowly.  It is now against the law for a research assistant, who is getting paid by the university, to attempt collective bargaining.

Let’s go side by side…the dumb side and the right side.  Dumb side first: the argument goes that graduate students cannot be recognized as employees, therefore have no right to unionize.  According to Michiganlawyerblog:

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

I was a graduate student in a public school.  I received money from the school to teach Intro Comp.  I was, in some sense, an employee.  I did not receive benefits (like that was going to happen), but I was remunerated for my services.

Michiganlawyerblog goes on to say:

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. (emphasis added)

That has to be one of the stupidest quotes I have ever read…students choose to read over eating or living in a shelter.

The counter side will be presented in U.S. District court (which is good because the state courts are bought, part and parcel, by the current Michigan ideology).

Final evil actor in this farce is the Mackinac Center for Public Policy, a propagator of the ideology of oppression, which presents the law as a victory over enforced unionization.  Patrick Wright states:

People pursuing graduate degrees are clearly students, not government employees. Our clients look forward to getting back to their studies and research, free from the looming threat of forced unionization.


The Center is providing legal counsel for Melinda Day, a graduate researcher finishing a dissertation in Life Sciences.

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