The Regents of the University of Michigan wrote the following letter to the Detroit Free Press in response to a poorly researched and poorly argued anti-union op-ed. As the Regents who signed it forcefully argue, GSRAs are workers and deserve the right to determine on their own whether they want to be a part of a union.
We are writing to set the record straight regarding the Free Press’ May 27 editorial, “Call to unionize U-M research assistants makes little sense,” as no one from the editorial board contacted the regents who voted with the majority before writing it.
The regents did not vote “to allow graduate student research assistants to form a union.” Rather, we voted to support the right of 2,100 employees to choose whether or not they wish to be represented by the existing Graduate Employees Organization, which has represented graduate student employees for more than 30 years.
Our action merely terminated the university’s efforts to stop the graduate student research assistants (GSRAs) from even considering the question. We did so because we believe there is no factual basis for prohibiting their right to choose.
The motion, passed 6-2, reads: “Resolved that consistent with the University of Michigan’s proud history of strong, positive and mutually productive labor relations, the Board of Regents supports the rights of University Graduate Student Research Assistants whom we recognize as employees to determine for themselves whether they choose to organize.”
We took this action because GSRAs are employees as well as students. They provide significant economic benefit to the university and have collective bargaining rights if they so choose. Proof of their employee status includes: They receive W-2s; the faculty handbook refers to them as employees; post-doctoral fellows who do identical work as GSRAs are employees; and their salaries are identical to graduate student instructors who are members of the Graduate Employee Organization.
Based on this evidence, it would have been wrong to allow university attorneys to argue in an administrative proceeding that these employees are solely students.
If GSRAs choose to form a union, it will be revenue neutral to the university. GSRAs make the same wages as graduate student employees. Over the last 10 years, the wage increases for the university’s unionized instructional employees have been significantly less on a percentage basis than those for tenured and tenure-track faculty.
Also, contrary to the Free Press’ assertion, research assistants are either organized or allowed to organize at the lead research universities in eight states.
Finally, the administration has received assurances that the GSRAs support the current student researcher appointment process and value the faculty-student mentoring relationship that exists today, as do we.
Our resolution provides clear policy guidance. We followed university procedure in its consideration and engaged in rigorous debate. While we did not reach unanimity, the majority’s statement and vote are consistent with the University of Michigan’s standards and are backed by fact and sound policy.
Julia Donovan Darlow, Laurence B. Deitch, Denise Ilitch, Olivia P. Maynard and S. Martin Taylor
Members, University of Michigan Board of Regents (Regent Katherine E. White, who also voted in favor of the resolution, is presently away serving our country as a lieutenant colonel in the U.S. Army Reserves and could not be reached regarding this letter.)