Michigan House Passes GSRA Bill

The Michigan Information & Research Service (MIRS) reports that the state House of Representatives quickly passed Senate Bill 971 on Thursday, March 1. The legislation would make explicit that graduate student research assistants (GSRAs) are not entitled to collective bargaining rights under Michigan’s Act 336 of 1947. MIRS reported that there was no discussion of the bill on the floor of the Republican-controlled House, and that the item was not initially on the agenda for Thursday’s session.

The bill, which was introduced on Feb. 15 by state Senate majority leader Randy Richardville (R-Monroe), states: “An individual serving as a graduate student research assistant or in an equivalent position and any individual whose position does not have sufficient indicia of an employment relationship is not a public employee entitled to representation or collective bargaining rights under this act.” It was proposed in response to efforts at the University of Michigan to allow GSRAs to vote on whether to unionize.

At a special meeting convened on Feb. 21, UM regents had voted 6-2 on a resolution to formally oppose the bill, with the board’s two Republican regents voting against the resolution. [See Chronicle coverage: "GSRA Bill: Regents Debate Opposition"] Under that direction from the majority of the regents, Cynthia Wilbanks, UM’s vice president for government relations, has testified against the bill at recent committee hearings in both the House and Senate. UM regent Andy Richner, a Republican, was among those testifying in favor of passage.

The bill was moved quickly through the legislature in order to enact the law before an anticipated mid-March ruling by the Michigan Employment Relations Commission on whether to grant GSRAs the status of employees. Hearings have been held before administrative law judge Julia Stern, who was expected to make a recommendation to MERC on the issue later in March.

The bill will now be sent back to the state Senate for final approval, then to Gov. Rick Snyder for his signature.