Right Wing Advocacy Group Successfully Stifles Democracy

A couple of weeks ago, Gov. Rick Snyder (of Michigan, of course) signed a bill that prevents graduate student research assistants (GSRAs) from having a say in whether they want (as a group) to unionize.

For nearly the past 2 years, the Graduate Employees Organization (GEO) has been attempting to bring GSRAs into the union, which now only represents graduate student instructors (GSIs). GEO has been instrumental in guaranteeing fair wages for graduate employees, insuring that graduate employees receive that same health care package that all UM employees receive, and providing representation when disputes arise. Not many universities offer as generous a support package as the University of Michigan, which makes the U extremely competitive in the market for quality graduate students.

In the early 1980’s, the Michigan Employee Relations Committee (MERC) determined that GSRAs, who were a minority at the time, were not employees of the university (and thus of the state) and thus would not qualify for representation under the union. That situation has vastly changed. Now GSRAs outnumber GSIs and the U has morphed into a research behemoth. GSRAs play a pivotal role in the U’s status as a world class research institution and in Michigan’s fragile economy.

The conservative Mackinac Center, a non-profit public policy group that has made no secret of it’s stance against public employee unions, offered to pay for legal fees to challenge GEOs bid to allow GSRAs to vote whether to enter the union. With this backing, a rag tag group called Students Against GSRA Unionization, took the issue to the state and after months of wrangling, the issue manifested itself as a Republican led bill.

The bill, which Gov. Snyder signed, essentially codifies the MERC decision from the early 1980’s and quashes any arguments that GSRAs should enter GEO. Simply, GSRAs cannot vote to join any union and now have no right at all to collective bargaining or unionization.

Though this post is embarrassingly late, the issue fills me with rage. Certainly, I despise the Mackinac Center so I am biased in this regard. To critics of the decision to unionize GSRAs, I would remind you, that GEO was seeking merely a VOTE. If this isn’t “big government” at work, I’m not sure what is.

If the body of GSRAs decided that it was not in their interest to join the union, the it would not happen. Certainly SAGU and any other group could make the case against unionization and the issue could be put up to discussion. It was very possible that GEO would have lost in a public vote.

That idea seems to have escaped SAGU, which probably feared that they would lose such a vote. (FYI: This was an odd group. Their initial spokesperson, Melinda Day, was filmed snickering and rolling her eyes at a hearing before the Michigan Legislature, apparently oblivious to the presence of adults in the room.)

Gov. Snyder’s and the Republican led state legislature’s decision however, robs GSRAs of the right to vote. Given the current pattern of Republican led efforts to deny the vote to Michigan’s citizenry through the enaction of EMF programs, this should be of absolutely no surprise at all. Republicans in the state of Michigan, who purport to believe in democracy, really only believe in the power of the vote when it suits their own ends. Certainly, this is endemic to political groups under any label, but the heavy handed, and unrestrained, actions of the state in this case make the problem so incredibly obvious as to defy explanation.

So here, I say, fuck you Gov. Snyder. You are an embarrassment not only to the State of Michigan, but to democracy itself, which you obviously don’t care about. I’ll see you in 2014.

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About Pete Larson

Assistant Professor of Epidemiology at the Nagasaki University Institute for Tropical Medicine

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