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Michigan Gov Rick Snyder Signs Bill Prohibiting Graduate Student Research Assistants from Organizing

Michigan Governor Rick Snyder has signed a new bill that prevents university graduate student research assistants from joining unions. Republican supporters say that the law helps protect the student-teacher relationship in academia.

Perhaps most interesting in this scenario is the reversal of talking points between the parties involved. The GOP is claiming that this action is not targeting unions and is simply what is best for higher education (now they care?) while Democrats have adopted a standard GOP talking point and suggested that the law is a prime example of Government overreach.

The bill specifically notes that graduate student research assistants are students and not public sector employees, therefore making them ineligible to organize:

“While graduate student research assistants provide valuable efforts for universities, they are students first and foremost,” Snyder said in a release. “Considering them to be public employees with union representation would alter the nature of the critical relationship between students and teachers, and risk the educational mission of universities.”

State Senate Majority Leader Randy Richardville, R-Monroe, has said the student-faculty relationship is critical, and, “by injecting a third party into it there were concerns that the relationship would be compromised.”

Richardville may have tipped his hand that this was an anti-union measure when he estimated that “unions would have been able to collect more than $1 million in new dues had the students organized.”

Senate Minority Leader Gretchen Whitmer, D-East Lansing, said Republicans became fearful students would organize. She also pointed out the hypocrisy of Gov. Snyder and his fellow conservatives:

“This bill says we should not trust the judgment of the next generation of leaders. Instead it says we in state government know better than they do, that we know better whether they are employees or merely students,” Whitmer said on the Senate floor.

“I’ve never met a group of so-called conservatives so enchanted with the heavy hand of government. If Washington did this to Michigan, they’d be running around yelling about socialism. There are many reasons to oppose this bill, from the governmental overreach to the dangerous precedent involving university autonomy. But what it really boils down to is this: What do conservatives fear about people voting?”

Good question.


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