Office of the Vice President for Global Communications

Friday, June 17, 2011

Regents issue statement regarding GSRA resolution

On behalf of members of the Board of Regents, newly appointed Chair Denise Ilitch offered the following statement Thursday on the board's action of the previous month regarding graduate student research assistants. The board voted 6-2 May 19 to support the rights of GSRAs to choose whether to proceed toward a representation election.

Statement concerning resolution of May 19, 2011

The Regents named below present this statement to complete and correct the record in connection with a motion that passed at our May 19th public meeting.

To be clear, the Regents of the University of Michigan did not vote to allow graduate student research assistants to form a union. Rather, we voted to support the right of these 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 within the University for more than 30 years. The effect of our action was merely to terminate the University's efforts (in a proceeding before the Michigan Employment Relations Commission) to stop the graduate student research assistants, or GSRAs, from even considering the question. We did this because we believed that there is no defensible factual basis for preventing their right to choose.

The motion, which 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. As employees, they provide significant benefit to the University, and they have legal rights including collective bargaining rights, if they so choose. Proof of their employee status includes:

1) They receive W-2s;

2) In its own materials, including its faculty handbook, the University refers to these individuals as employees;

3) Post-doctoral fellows who often do the same work as GSRAs are considered employees by the Administration; and

4) Their salaries are identical to those of the graduate student instructors, who are members of the Graduate Employees Organization.

Based on the hard evidence, it would have been factually incorrect and wrong to have University attorneys argue in an administrative proceeding that these employees are solely students.

This matter has been discussed within the University since last year. During public comment at the Regents' public meeting on February 17, three months before the adoption of the resolution, GSRA and Graduate Employee Organization representatives asked the Board to support University neutrality in the matter, and three Regents voiced their support for the rights of these student workers to organize. Since then, numerous informal discussions took place among President Coleman and individual members of the Board. We explained our belief that the GSRAs are employees as well as students and have a right to choose. We asked for compromise, yet she declined.

Prior to the May 19 meeting, the Board Chair reached out to report fully to all Regents and to explain a draft of the one-sentence resolution. There were no surprises. The day of the vote, we followed procedure during a two-hour discussion with the Administration. Following the making of the motion, President Coleman articulated her opposition. After she spoke, Regents supporting it said:

1) While we disagree on this issue, we have consistently supported the President;

2) Our vote is an affirmation of participatory democracy and the right to choose;

3) Our vote expresses no opinion on whether or not employees should vote to form a union; and

4) If the employees are to vote for a union, we support the University's right to enter only into contracts where its legitimate interests are fully protected.

It is critical to note that if the GSRAs choose to form a union, this matter will be revenue neutral to the University. GSRAs make the same wages as their fellow graduate student employees. Over the last ten 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.

Research assistants are either organized or allowed to organize at the lead research universities in the following states: Minnesota, Wisconsin, Washington, Massachusetts, New Jersey (Rutgers), Iowa, Oregon and Florida.

Finally, it is noteworthy that the Administration has received assurances that the GSRAs support the student researcher appointment process and value the time-honored faculty-student mentoring relationship that exist today, as do we. We believe that the process and the relationship can and should be preserved, regardless of the outcome of the organizing question.

We remain steadfast in our commitment to the excellence of the research enterprise of the University, which has now passed the annual $1 billion mark. We are proud to be members of the Board that has supported building the Life Sciences Institute, expanding the Institute for Social Research, and acquiring the Pfizer research campus and we have staunchly resisted incursions into stem cell research.

In adopting the resolution, our goal was to provide clear policy guidance. We followed University procedure in its consideration and engaged in rigorous debate. While it is unfortunate we did not reach unananimity, the majority's statement and vote are consistent with the University of Michigan's standards and tradition and are backed both by fact and sound policy.

Respectfully submitted,

Regent Julia Donovan Darlow
Regent Laurence B. Deitch
Regent Denise Ilitch
Regent Olivia P. Maynard
Regent S. Martin Taylor
Regent Katherine E. White