New law bans student researchers from unionizing

Student graduate research assistants have been barred from unionizing in public universities. Is this acceptable?

Should graduate research students be able to form unions, or is the move to prevent such efforts a case of government overreach?

Gov. Rick Snyder of Michigan signed a controversial bill this week which bars graduate research assistants in public universities from forming any type of union. It came into being after a group of research assistants based at the University of Michigan attempted to unionize.

The bill, sponsored by state Rep. Al Pscholka, R-Stevensville, specifies that graduate student research assistants are not public employees -- as it relates to collective bargaining -- and therefore are not entitled to form such entities. The new law clarifies that the students are not public employees that can be recognized by the state Public Employment Relations Act.

As the research assistants are primarily there to learn and earn advanced degrees rather than a wage, they have become excluded.

In comparison, opposing Democrats believe that the bill attacks collective bargaining rights. In addition, groups critical of the move say that it is part of a governmental body overstepping the mark; and does nothing except further restrict student speech.

The Republican governor said that these research assistants are students, first and foremost. To consider them as public employees with union representation would shift the 'critical relationship' between students and teachers to its detriment. Snyder said in a release:

"While graduate student research assistants provide valuable efforts for universities, they are students first and foremost. 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."

With such controversy concerning student rights and free speech both on campus and online, it will be interesting to see if other U.S. universities will follow suit.