The University of Michigan boasts one of the most successful graduate student unions in the country. The Graduate Employees Organization (GEO) can be credited for helping UM graduate students get one of the best deals among all American graduate schools. Those of us who receive funding from the UM and other sources enjoy a guaranteed decent wage, a health care plan identical to that which standard UM employees receive, and a place to turn for help to when things go sour.
Though all funded graduate students receive the same minimum guarantees that GEO members do, until now only teaching assistants have been officially allowed into the union. In the early 80’s when GEO was formed, teaching assistants far outnumbered paid research assistants (GSRA’s_, and the thinking was that GSRA’s were a special category of graduate student that did not require representation by a union.
The numbers, however, have vastly shifted as UM slowly became a research giant. Now, GSRA’s outnumber teaching assistants and play a vital role in the University’s standing as a massive research institution. GEO has embarked on a plan to allow GSRA’s to integrate with the union and is calling for a vote among all GSRA’s to decided whether this should, in fact, happen. What appeared to be a simple procedure has now turned into a political battlefield.
Right wing groups, specifically, the conservative think tank the Mackinac Center (whom I’ve written of before), have entered the fight, seeking to prevent the student union from expanding. As we have seen in other states, all public unions are under fire from rightists who ostensibly see collective bargaining as an obstacle to a free market but, in reality, merely seek to consolidate power into a few hands.
It’s no surprise, of course, that 19 present and former self-interested school deans have also opposed the unionization of GSRA’s, making the bizarre claim that a worker’s union (which in effect already represents the GSRA’s in practice) would somehow discourage students from coming the UM. I can see it now, “Hmmm, this school has a graduate student union, not going there!”
Fortunately, the Mackinac Center failed in their bid to block the state board, MERC, from hearing the case to allow GSRA’s to merely vote on whether to join the union. The Mackinac Center waged a laughable campaign where they enlisted a single poorly spoken graduate student to public protest the GSRA effort, implying that the unionization of GSRA’s would prevent students from finishing their degrees and shutter the mighty University of Michigan for good.
Tea Party favorite and extreme right-winger Bill Schuette has now also entered the fight against unionization of GSRA’s, though this should be of little surprise. Schuette has intimate ties with the Mackinac Center and, in fact, was a guest of honor at one of their events. Schuette opposes the Affordable Health Care Act, and has in fact sued (using Michigan dollars) to have it overturned. Schuette can’t figure out whether he’s for or against medical marijuana but definitely knows that he wants to put pot-heads in jail. Schuette has actively tried to close abortion clinics in Saginaw. Schuette hates immigrants, and, in fact, despite being in the Michigan government, inexplicably made supporting the racist Arizona immigration law a part of his election platform. Wow. Who voted for this guy?
It should be obvious that this issue is about more than just some small local issue, but part of a growing trend of right wing power consolidation that is occurring (or maybe has been continually occurring) all over the country. I, for one, support the right for all to unionize. The small can only resist the powerful in large numbers.