Monday, December 19, 2011

Graduate Student Campaign to Unionize Moves Forward

On Tuesday of last week, the University of Michigan graduate student research assistant (GRSA) campaign to form a union received a welcomed boost when the Michigan Employment Relations Commission (MERC) voted to approve a fact-finding on the question of whether or not GSRAs are employees.

The Scientist published a piece that explains the signficance of this ruling as well as the reasoning behind unionization.

At bottom, the argument against GSRA unionization that likes of the Mackinaw Center, University President Mary Sue Coleman, Attorney General Bill Schuelte and Professors like Thomas Zurbuchen is paternalistic at best - Graduate students should not be able to establish a formal process to address workplace grievances and negotiate contracts because the University and advisors will always act in the interest of the graduate students when determining wages and resolving workplace conflicts.

The balance of power between GSRAs and the University will change, but only in direction of giving graduate student research assistants basic protections against exploitation and abuse in the event that a graduate student research assistant suffers such exploitation and abuse.

Or, as GSRA Jamie Van Etten simply and forcefully makes the case:

"Having a union is about ensuring that every student gets fair protection, especially if they are in tough lab situations, agreed Van Etten. 'I know students who are really happy in their lab. I am one of them,” she said. 'Our advisor cares about our success as students and as scientists, but I know that’s not the case across the board.'

This sounds like a pretty modest goal to me.

Read the full article here.


  1. Great article Adam. The piece in the Scientist really clarifies a lot.

  2. @Andy, GSIs have a union, the Graduate Employees Organization, commonly called GEO. They are working to help the GSRAs vote on unionization.