Advertisement
The Scientist
The Scientist

A Graduate Student Union?

Michigan’s employment commission is exploring whether graduate students at state schools have the right to unionize.

By | December 14, 2011

image: A Graduate Student Union? University of MichiganFlickr, snre

University of MichiganFLICKR, SNRE

University of Michigan graduate research assistants will soon learn whether they have the right to unionize. Yesterday (December 13) Michigan Employment Relations Commission (MERC) requested a fact-finding hearing to determine whether graduate research assistants at the university are employees or students, who unlike employees, lack the right to unionize. While some life scientists worry that unionization may lead to mediocrity in research, others say collective bargaining rights are essential to ensure fair wages and protection from mistreatment.

“The main issue is that [graduate research assistants] are considered employees by the university,” said Jamie Van Etten, University of Michigan graduate student in biological chemistry. “As such, we should have the right to negotiate the terms of our employment.”

Graduate student researchers have been barred from forming a union since 1981, when the MERC ruled that while they do perform research, they are still students, not employees. The logic behind the finding was that graduate research furthered individual students’ dissertations, and therefore was done solely for students’ academic benefit, not for the school’s benefit.

But in April, over half of the graduate student research assistants on campus signed a petition requesting the right to unionize, and the following month, university regents voted along party lines (6-2) to allow unionization, with Democrats in favor and Republicans opposed.

At a meeting with MERC this Tuesday (December 13), the Graduate Employment Organization (GEO) argued that because the nature of research at the University of Michigan has fundamentally changed in the past 30 years, graduate students should now be considered employees. The University brings in significant revenue through research grants, and its mission statement now cites research as a core activity, said Caren Weinhouse, an environmental epigenetics graduate student and the GEO’s communications chair.  In addition, many graduate research assistants, like her, get their funding “on a grant and are required to do things for that grant even if it’s not related to their dissertation,” she added.

In response to the GEO’s claim, the MERC requested a fact-finding hearing to evaluate whether graduate students are in fact employees, not just students. Those opposed to unionization, including the Republican state attorney general Bill Schuelte, can submit evidence against student employee status during that hearing, but because they are not the ones who would be affected by the decision, they can’t file a lawsuit to block unionization.

Indeed, many administrators and faculty have pushed back against the possibility of a graduate researcher union, worrying that the change could harm research at the university and invite mediocrity. “The vast majority of peer schools that we compare ourselves with at Michigan don’t [unionize]—MIT doesn’t, Stanford doesn’t, neither does Berkeley,” said Thomas Zurbuchen, an aerospace engineering professor at the University. “Today’s university is a battle for quality talent,” and a unionized Michigan may struggle to stay competitive with these top-flight schools, he said.

Plus, Zurbuchen added, not all graduate students are pro-unionization. Some fear that they won’t have the freedom to come into the lab and works nights and weekends if unionization occurs, he said.

But that worry is misplaced, Weinhouse said. A union would have to vote to decide whether it wanted to impose limited work hours, and even if it did, no student would be barred from putting extra hours in on research, she said. The limitation would be in place for those researchers who feel they are being overworked by their advisors, she explained.

Having a union is about ensuring that every student gets fair protection, especially if they are in tough lab situations, agreed Van Etten. “I know students who are really happy in their lab. I am one of them,” she said. “Our advisor cares about our success as students and as scientists, but I know that’s not the case across the board.”

Zurbuchen said he’s also heard graduate student researchers voice concerns about losing the generous benefits they receive in cushy engineering and life science appointments. Van Etten has also heard some concern about pay cuts, the possibility of union dues, and potential interference with the mentoring relationship students share with their advisors. “Those are valid arguments, but I think that there are some misunderstandings, too, about how a union would function,” she said.

Unionization should protect students against lower wages if the university faced cuts, for example, Weinhouse said. “A union is there to protect people’s rights as an employee.”

Advertisement

Add a Comment

Avatar of: You

You

Processing...
Processing...

Sign In with your LabX Media Group Passport to leave a comment

Not a member? Register Now!

LabX Media Group Passport Logo

Comments

Avatar of: 22Victor22

22Victor22

Posts: 6

December 14, 2011

We're one step closer to finally forming our union and securing many of the basic workplace protections that we have lacked until now. And as an international graduate student, I think that the union will finally bring some of the workplace discrimination that we've seen from PIs to an end. 

Avatar of: Brittany Bowman

Brittany Bowman

Posts: 2

December 14, 2011

I just wish that students opposed to a union were getting their voices heard.

Avatar of: 22Victor22

22Victor22

Posts: 6

December 14, 2011

That's what an election is for. And they're getting plenty of help from the Administration's union busting campaign and the Mackinac Center. 

Avatar of: Patrick O

Patrick O'Mahen

Posts: 1457

December 14, 2011

Zurbuchen's claims here are utterly laughable. Graduate Student Instructors and House Officers (medical residents) at Michigan have been unionized since the 1970s. Recruitment for graduate programs and for residents have not suffered at all; and many grad and residency programs are in the top five or 10 nationally. Many talented prospective grads and residents actually say that the union is a reason to come to Michigan  He also should know that many grads at many private schools -- like Yale, NYU and UPenn have tried to unionize, but were thwarted by a flawed National Labor Relations Board ruling.

Avatar of:

Posts: 0

December 14, 2011

We're one step closer to finally forming our union and securing many of the basic workplace protections that we have lacked until now. And as an international graduate student, I think that the union will finally bring some of the workplace discrimination that we've seen from PIs to an end. 

Avatar of:

Posts: 0

December 14, 2011

I just wish that students opposed to a union were getting their voices heard.

Avatar of:

Posts: 0

December 14, 2011

That's what an election is for. And they're getting plenty of help from the Administration's union busting campaign and the Mackinac Center. 

Avatar of:

Posts: 0

December 14, 2011

Zurbuchen's claims here are utterly laughable. Graduate Student Instructors and House Officers (medical residents) at Michigan have been unionized since the 1970s. Recruitment for graduate programs and for residents have not suffered at all; and many grad and residency programs are in the top five or 10 nationally. Many talented prospective grads and residents actually say that the union is a reason to come to Michigan  He also should know that many grads at many private schools -- like Yale, NYU and UPenn have tried to unionize, but were thwarted by a flawed National Labor Relations Board ruling.

Avatar of:

Posts: 0

December 14, 2011

We're one step closer to finally forming our union and securing many of the basic workplace protections that we have lacked until now. And as an international graduate student, I think that the union will finally bring some of the workplace discrimination that we've seen from PIs to an end. 

Avatar of:

Posts: 0

December 14, 2011

I just wish that students opposed to a union were getting their voices heard.

Avatar of:

Posts: 0

December 14, 2011

That's what an election is for. And they're getting plenty of help from the Administration's union busting campaign and the Mackinac Center. 

Avatar of:

Posts: 0

December 14, 2011

Zurbuchen's claims here are utterly laughable. Graduate Student Instructors and House Officers (medical residents) at Michigan have been unionized since the 1970s. Recruitment for graduate programs and for residents have not suffered at all; and many grad and residency programs are in the top five or 10 nationally. Many talented prospective grads and residents actually say that the union is a reason to come to Michigan  He also should know that many grads at many private schools -- like Yale, NYU and UPenn have tried to unionize, but were thwarted by a flawed National Labor Relations Board ruling.

Avatar of:

Posts: 0

December 15, 2011

Thanks, Patrick, for pointing out how foolish Zurbuchen sounds. I'd like to think that an academic at a top school like Michigan is capable of better comprehension than this. The fact is, a union can only benefit student-workers AND faculty. As a current Graduate Student Instructor, my benefits are secured by the union contract; I am paid a living wage as a result of the union contract; and I am protected by the contract from being unfairly dismissed. And I do better work because I know I am healthy and can contribute to my family & household. Far from encouraging mediocrity, a union promotes excellence--because of the basic protections a union offers, I am free to concentrate on my research and my work. I can honestly say that being unionized, and the benefit--monetary, health-care, and peace of mind--that a union brings are some of the best things about the offer I received from Michigan.

Avatar of:

Posts: 0

December 15, 2011

The laughable part is comparing Michigan to Stanford, MIT, or Berkeley.

Avatar of:

Posts: 0

December 15, 2011

I assume you wish you lived in a dictatorship too. Because otherwise, your voice gets heard in the election. 

Avatar of:

Posts: 0

December 15, 2011

I am from the UK and do not know the legislation that exists in America. But, all groups need a voice and for the Universities in America to take the view that "graduate research only benefits the graduate" is truly shortsighted and shows how removed from research the top echelons are !!!

Avatar of:

Posts: 0

December 15, 2011

All groups need a voice and a union often provides this. But, for the American Universities to say that "graduate research only benefits the graduate" is truly shortsighted and shows how much the upper echelons are divorced from the basic research going on in their universities.

Avatar of:

Posts: 0

December 15, 2011

As a matter of principle, I can't see anything in the US Constitution that can justify taking money from citizens and using this to pay students, or educators, at a 'public' institution.  So, I don't think that this whole issue has anything to do with principles of government, it's more like a case of some people wanting to get more money, and more control, from other people who take 'public' money in large amounts.  Public employee unions in general violate our democratic right to determine how government should operate, as these unions think that they, representing a minority, should control these decisions.  It's time to get the government out of education as a whole.  Then, private employees, or students, can do as they wish.

Avatar of:

Posts: 0

December 15, 2011

This line of reasoning sounds incredibly libertarian to a European; we tend to frown on "private" universities where faculty can "do as they wish". We (i.e. the continentals, not speaking for the UK) see education as a service that "the people" can expect from their government. We heavily subsidize college education and make every effort to be as inclusive as possible, with negligible tuition fees (compared to the outrageous fees at high-ranking US universities). We believe that this contributes to greater social cohesion, as education potential is only limited by intellectual potential and motivation, not by the financial resources of the student.
 

Avatar of:

Posts: 0

December 15, 2011

Excellent Siegfried.  A certain, but highly vocal, subset of US Americans believes that education is a commercial business.  It isn't, and it should not and cannot be run like a commercial business.  The business of education is not based on the premise of "I paid for a product, therefore I should get it.  Additionally, I want a guarantee that it doesn't break."  Students pay for the privilege to learn from a hopefully well-vetted faculty.  When the faculty is not well vetted, then there is a problem.

I was at Cal Berkeley in the early 80's when the Graduate Student Association negotiated medical benefits for us students.  It was not accomplished by a union, but by unified students.  

If a union is required, then so be it.  Students deserve fair treatment.

Avatar of:

Posts: 0

December 15, 2011

As a international student in 7 th year of PhD I would full-heartedly support any such body for graduate students. I can write a thesis on the discrimination I face
at work place!! Although I was one of the best students that ever entered my lab, I am graduating last compared to my batch-mates! I have not been mentioned on the studies started on my ideas !! I can go on an on!! The dean/committee members are of no help they all have their ongoing collaborations with my advisor :(
We really need a union.

Avatar of:

Posts: 0

December 15, 2011

This discussion is the result of graduate student abuse by their advisors by using them as cheap labor.  If the advisor did his/her job and make the success of the student a priority by good mentorship, example and hard work, as it is the advisor's job, this situation would not happen.  

Avatar of:

Posts: 0

December 15, 2011

Nothing new here.  Look up SUNY grad student union in the 90s.  Graduate students absolutely have the right to unionize. The old classic relationship of student and mentor was based on the student being groomed for a career.  That relationship has turned cynical.  Grad students today are cheap labor in labs lucky enough to get funding.  Grad student careers are secondary concerns at best.  And yes, it will decrease the number of grad students, and that's only to prospective student's benefit. This is absolutely tied to the PhD overpopulation problem and the subsequent lack of funding for the researchers produced by the graduate schools. Grad student unions will hopefully help evolve the reform in researcher training that is desperately needed.  Researchers with funding apparently have no incentive for seeking reform of this imploding system.  In fact, many are still trying to perpetuate the myth that we aren't producing enough PhD researchers.

Avatar of:

Posts: 0

December 15, 2011

I was a graduate student at UM, and I don't see the need. I had better health care and insurance there as a student then anywhere else I have worked.  Yes stipend aren't going to make you rich but you are a STUDENT!  And academic freedom will either supersede or be crushed by a union.  And if academic freedom goes so will our cutting edge. Some people don't need and don't deserve a Ph.D.  

Avatar of:

Posts: 0

December 15, 2011

I am from the UK and do not know the legislation that exists in America. But, all groups need a voice and for the Universities in America to take the view that "graduate research only benefits the graduate" is truly shortsighted and shows how removed from research the top echelons are !!!

Avatar of:

Posts: 0

December 15, 2011

All groups need a voice and a union often provides this. But, for the American Universities to say that "graduate research only benefits the graduate" is truly shortsighted and shows how much the upper echelons are divorced from the basic research going on in their universities.

Avatar of:

Posts: 0

December 15, 2011

As a matter of principle, I can't see anything in the US Constitution that can justify taking money from citizens and using this to pay students, or educators, at a 'public' institution.  So, I don't think that this whole issue has anything to do with principles of government, it's more like a case of some people wanting to get more money, and more control, from other people who take 'public' money in large amounts.  Public employee unions in general violate our democratic right to determine how government should operate, as these unions think that they, representing a minority, should control these decisions.  It's time to get the government out of education as a whole.  Then, private employees, or students, can do as they wish.

Avatar of:

Posts: 0

December 15, 2011

This line of reasoning sounds incredibly libertarian to a European; we tend to frown on "private" universities where faculty can "do as they wish". We (i.e. the continentals, not speaking for the UK) see education as a service that "the people" can expect from their government. We heavily subsidize college education and make every effort to be as inclusive as possible, with negligible tuition fees (compared to the outrageous fees at high-ranking US universities). We believe that this contributes to greater social cohesion, as education potential is only limited by intellectual potential and motivation, not by the financial resources of the student.
 

Avatar of:

Posts: 0

December 15, 2011

Excellent Siegfried.  A certain, but highly vocal, subset of US Americans believes that education is a commercial business.  It isn't, and it should not and cannot be run like a commercial business.  The business of education is not based on the premise of "I paid for a product, therefore I should get it.  Additionally, I want a guarantee that it doesn't break."  Students pay for the privilege to learn from a hopefully well-vetted faculty.  When the faculty is not well vetted, then there is a problem.

I was at Cal Berkeley in the early 80's when the Graduate Student Association negotiated medical benefits for us students.  It was not accomplished by a union, but by unified students.  

If a union is required, then so be it.  Students deserve fair treatment.

Avatar of:

Posts: 0

December 15, 2011

As a international student in 7 th year of PhD I would full-heartedly support any such body for graduate students. I can write a thesis on the discrimination I face
at work place!! Although I was one of the best students that ever entered my lab, I am graduating last compared to my batch-mates! I have not been mentioned on the studies started on my ideas !! I can go on an on!! The dean/committee members are of no help they all have their ongoing collaborations with my advisor :(
We really need a union.

Avatar of:

Posts: 0

December 15, 2011

This discussion is the result of graduate student abuse by their advisors by using them as cheap labor.  If the advisor did his/her job and make the success of the student a priority by good mentorship, example and hard work, as it is the advisor's job, this situation would not happen.  

Avatar of:

Posts: 0

December 15, 2011

Nothing new here.  Look up SUNY grad student union in the 90s.  Graduate students absolutely have the right to unionize. The old classic relationship of student and mentor was based on the student being groomed for a career.  That relationship has turned cynical.  Grad students today are cheap labor in labs lucky enough to get funding.  Grad student careers are secondary concerns at best.  And yes, it will decrease the number of grad students, and that's only to prospective student's benefit. This is absolutely tied to the PhD overpopulation problem and the subsequent lack of funding for the researchers produced by the graduate schools. Grad student unions will hopefully help evolve the reform in researcher training that is desperately needed.  Researchers with funding apparently have no incentive for seeking reform of this imploding system.  In fact, many are still trying to perpetuate the myth that we aren't producing enough PhD researchers.

Avatar of:

Posts: 0

December 15, 2011

I was a graduate student at UM, and I don't see the need. I had better health care and insurance there as a student then anywhere else I have worked.  Yes stipend aren't going to make you rich but you are a STUDENT!  And academic freedom will either supersede or be crushed by a union.  And if academic freedom goes so will our cutting edge. Some people don't need and don't deserve a Ph.D.  

Avatar of:

Posts: 0

December 15, 2011

I'm all for unions, just as long as I have the freedom not to pay one penny for them. My right to work, unencumbered by union organizer stupidity, should be a nationwide goal

Avatar of:

Posts: 0

December 15, 2011

I deplore the Republican party attacks on unions, as the US workplace is already so very slanted in favor of the rich holders of capital and against those who work for a living. 
But predoc unions in a non-profit university are a different story. Suppose I am a grad student with a vital project running when the union calls a strike? IF I am not able to do my work, it hurts me more than the university or even the mentor, as the strike seriously damages my project and threatens my Ph.D. Of course, if graduate students have to work on projects that do not benefit their education, then the union is needed. Overall the big question for me is - will union activities protect and enhance graduate student education?

Avatar of:

Posts: 0

December 15, 2011

Unions were an important entity back during the industrial revolution when working conditions were horrible. Now, unions have become an excuse for people to be lazy and mediocre because they know that they will receive the same benefits as everyone else regardless if they work hard or not. 

Also, even if graduate students are doing work for a grant that is not directly linked to their thesis, they are still learning and contributing to their knowledge base. Graduate students are not employees, they are students. Further,  I don't think graduate students would be against unionization if they could choose to be a part of it or not. There should not be "forced" unionization for people who don't want it. 

Graduate students should know what they are getting into before joining a lab. Graduate students need take it upon themselves to talk to/meet with their potential mentor ahead of time to learn if their personalities would collide and learn about their responsibilities in that lab. If they don't, they have put themselves into that tough position. 

Avatar of:

Posts: 0

December 15, 2011

Thanks, Patrick, for pointing out how foolish Zurbuchen sounds. I'd like to think that an academic at a top school like Michigan is capable of better comprehension than this. The fact is, a union can only benefit student-workers AND faculty. As a current Graduate Student Instructor, my benefits are secured by the union contract; I am paid a living wage as a result of the union contract; and I am protected by the contract from being unfairly dismissed. And I do better work because I know I am healthy and can contribute to my family & household. Far from encouraging mediocrity, a union promotes excellence--because of the basic protections a union offers, I am free to concentrate on my research and my work. I can honestly say that being unionized, and the benefit--monetary, health-care, and peace of mind--that a union brings are some of the best things about the offer I received from Michigan.

Avatar of:

Posts: 0

December 15, 2011

The laughable part is comparing Michigan to Stanford, MIT, or Berkeley.

Avatar of:

Posts: 0

December 15, 2011

I assume you wish you lived in a dictatorship too. Because otherwise, your voice gets heard in the election. 

Avatar of: jegarst

jegarst

Posts: 6

December 15, 2011

I'm all for unions, just as long as I have the freedom not to pay one penny for them. My right to work, unencumbered by union organizer stupidity, should be a nationwide goal

Avatar of: david.harrison

david.harrison

Posts: 28

December 15, 2011

I deplore the Republican party attacks on unions, as the US workplace is already so very slanted in favor of the rich holders of capital and against those who work for a living. 
But predoc unions in a non-profit university are a different story. Suppose I am a grad student with a vital project running when the union calls a strike? IF I am not able to do my work, it hurts me more than the university or even the mentor, as the strike seriously damages my project and threatens my Ph.D. Of course, if graduate students have to work on projects that do not benefit their education, then the union is needed. Overall the big question for me is - will union activities protect and enhance graduate student education?

Avatar of: Ashley Sandy

Ashley Sandy

Posts: 1

December 15, 2011

Unions were an important entity back during the industrial revolution when working conditions were horrible. Now, unions have become an excuse for people to be lazy and mediocre because they know that they will receive the same benefits as everyone else regardless if they work hard or not. 

Also, even if graduate students are doing work for a grant that is not directly linked to their thesis, they are still learning and contributing to their knowledge base. Graduate students are not employees, they are students. Further,  I don't think graduate students would be against unionization if they could choose to be a part of it or not. There should not be "forced" unionization for people who don't want it. 

Graduate students should know what they are getting into before joining a lab. Graduate students need take it upon themselves to talk to/meet with their potential mentor ahead of time to learn if their personalities would collide and learn about their responsibilities in that lab. If they don't, they have put themselves into that tough position. 

Avatar of: jenny k

jenny k

Posts: 1457

December 15, 2011

Thanks, Patrick, for pointing out how foolish Zurbuchen sounds. I'd like to think that an academic at a top school like Michigan is capable of better comprehension than this. The fact is, a union can only benefit student-workers AND faculty. As a current Graduate Student Instructor, my benefits are secured by the union contract; I am paid a living wage as a result of the union contract; and I am protected by the contract from being unfairly dismissed. And I do better work because I know I am healthy and can contribute to my family & household. Far from encouraging mediocrity, a union promotes excellence--because of the basic protections a union offers, I am free to concentrate on my research and my work. I can honestly say that being unionized, and the benefit--monetary, health-care, and peace of mind--that a union brings are some of the best things about the offer I received from Michigan.

Avatar of: kevin

kevin

Posts: 1457

December 15, 2011

The laughable part is comparing Michigan to Stanford, MIT, or Berkeley.

Avatar of: jenny k

jenny k

Posts: 1457

December 15, 2011

I assume you wish you lived in a dictatorship too. Because otherwise, your voice gets heard in the election. 

Avatar of: bigmal22

bigmal22

Posts: 2

December 15, 2011

I am from the UK and do not know the legislation that exists in America. But, all groups need a voice and for the Universities in America to take the view that "graduate research only benefits the graduate" is truly shortsighted and shows how removed from research the top echelons are !!!

Avatar of: bigmal22

bigmal22

Posts: 2

December 15, 2011

All groups need a voice and a union often provides this. But, for the American Universities to say that "graduate research only benefits the graduate" is truly shortsighted and shows how much the upper echelons are divorced from the basic research going on in their universities.

Avatar of: David Hill

David Hill

Posts: 1457

December 15, 2011

As a matter of principle, I can't see anything in the US Constitution that can justify taking money from citizens and using this to pay students, or educators, at a 'public' institution.  So, I don't think that this whole issue has anything to do with principles of government, it's more like a case of some people wanting to get more money, and more control, from other people who take 'public' money in large amounts.  Public employee unions in general violate our democratic right to determine how government should operate, as these unions think that they, representing a minority, should control these decisions.  It's time to get the government out of education as a whole.  Then, private employees, or students, can do as they wish.

Avatar of: SiegfriedJ

SiegfriedJ

Posts: 1457

December 15, 2011

This line of reasoning sounds incredibly libertarian to a European; we tend to frown on "private" universities where faculty can "do as they wish". We (i.e. the continentals, not speaking for the UK) see education as a service that "the people" can expect from their government. We heavily subsidize college education and make every effort to be as inclusive as possible, with negligible tuition fees (compared to the outrageous fees at high-ranking US universities). We believe that this contributes to greater social cohesion, as education potential is only limited by intellectual potential and motivation, not by the financial resources of the student.
 

Avatar of: Phyto

Phyto

Posts: 1

December 15, 2011

Excellent Siegfried.  A certain, but highly vocal, subset of US Americans believes that education is a commercial business.  It isn't, and it should not and cannot be run like a commercial business.  The business of education is not based on the premise of "I paid for a product, therefore I should get it.  Additionally, I want a guarantee that it doesn't break."  Students pay for the privilege to learn from a hopefully well-vetted faculty.  When the faculty is not well vetted, then there is a problem.

I was at Cal Berkeley in the early 80's when the Graduate Student Association negotiated medical benefits for us students.  It was not accomplished by a union, but by unified students.  

If a union is required, then so be it.  Students deserve fair treatment.

Avatar of: sanjeevani s

sanjeevani s

Posts: 1

December 15, 2011

As a international student in 7 th year of PhD I would full-heartedly support any such body for graduate students. I can write a thesis on the discrimination I face
at work place!! Although I was one of the best students that ever entered my lab, I am graduating last compared to my batch-mates! I have not been mentioned on the studies started on my ideas !! I can go on an on!! The dean/committee members are of no help they all have their ongoing collaborations with my advisor :(
We really need a union.

Avatar of: miguel.gama-sosa

miguel.gama-sosa

Posts: 25

December 15, 2011

This discussion is the result of graduate student abuse by their advisors by using them as cheap labor.  If the advisor did his/her job and make the success of the student a priority by good mentorship, example and hard work, as it is the advisor's job, this situation would not happen.  

Avatar of: Michael Holloway

Michael Holloway

Posts: 36

December 15, 2011

Nothing new here.  Look up SUNY grad student union in the 90s.  Graduate students absolutely have the right to unionize. The old classic relationship of student and mentor was based on the student being groomed for a career.  That relationship has turned cynical.  Grad students today are cheap labor in labs lucky enough to get funding.  Grad student careers are secondary concerns at best.  And yes, it will decrease the number of grad students, and that's only to prospective student's benefit. This is absolutely tied to the PhD overpopulation problem and the subsequent lack of funding for the researchers produced by the graduate schools. Grad student unions will hopefully help evolve the reform in researcher training that is desperately needed.  Researchers with funding apparently have no incentive for seeking reform of this imploding system.  In fact, many are still trying to perpetuate the myth that we aren't producing enough PhD researchers.

Avatar of: AAAA2

AAAA2

Posts: 2

December 15, 2011

I was a graduate student at UM, and I don't see the need. I had better health care and insurance there as a student then anywhere else I have worked.  Yes stipend aren't going to make you rich but you are a STUDENT!  And academic freedom will either supersede or be crushed by a union.  And if academic freedom goes so will our cutting edge. Some people don't need and don't deserve a Ph.D.  

Avatar of:

Posts: 0

December 15, 2011

I'm all for unions, just as long as I have the freedom not to pay one penny for them. My right to work, unencumbered by union organizer stupidity, should be a nationwide goal

Avatar of:

Posts: 0

December 15, 2011

I deplore the Republican party attacks on unions, as the US workplace is already so very slanted in favor of the rich holders of capital and against those who work for a living. 
But predoc unions in a non-profit university are a different story. Suppose I am a grad student with a vital project running when the union calls a strike? IF I am not able to do my work, it hurts me more than the university or even the mentor, as the strike seriously damages my project and threatens my Ph.D. Of course, if graduate students have to work on projects that do not benefit their education, then the union is needed. Overall the big question for me is - will union activities protect and enhance graduate student education?

Avatar of:

Posts: 0

December 15, 2011

Unions were an important entity back during the industrial revolution when working conditions were horrible. Now, unions have become an excuse for people to be lazy and mediocre because they know that they will receive the same benefits as everyone else regardless if they work hard or not. 

Also, even if graduate students are doing work for a grant that is not directly linked to their thesis, they are still learning and contributing to their knowledge base. Graduate students are not employees, they are students. Further,  I don't think graduate students would be against unionization if they could choose to be a part of it or not. There should not be "forced" unionization for people who don't want it. 

Graduate students should know what they are getting into before joining a lab. Graduate students need take it upon themselves to talk to/meet with their potential mentor ahead of time to learn if their personalities would collide and learn about their responsibilities in that lab. If they don't, they have put themselves into that tough position. 

Avatar of:

Posts: 0

December 16, 2011

It's a choice for any member to participate in a union action. If you want to work 100 hours a week that's your call. If you want to work through a job action that's also your call. 

Avatar of: 22Victor22

22Victor22

Posts: 6

December 16, 2011

Were you a GSI?

Avatar of: Brittany Bowman

Brittany Bowman

Posts: 2

December 16, 2011

You do not have to be so angry. I am entitled to my point of view. I believe that the problems faced by GSRAs are not a union matter but a matter for the particular department/school. I will vote in the election.

For the record my father is in a union, and I am not against unions I just do not think the GSRAs need another union to be in.

I am sorry that even posted.

Avatar of: 22Victor22

22Victor22

Posts: 6

December 16, 2011

It's a choice for any member to participate in a union action. If you want to work 100 hours a week that's your call. If you want to work through a job action that's also your call. 

Avatar of:

Posts: 0

December 16, 2011

You do not have to be so angry. I am entitled to my point of view. I believe that the problems faced by GSRAs are not a union matter but a matter for the particular department/school. I will vote in the election.

For the record my father is in a union, and I am not against unions I just do not think the GSRAs need another union to be in.

I am sorry that even posted.

Avatar of:

Posts: 0

December 16, 2011

It's a choice for any member to participate in a union action. If you want to work 100 hours a week that's your call. If you want to work through a job action that's also your call. 

Avatar of:

Posts: 0

December 16, 2011

Were you a GSI?

Avatar of:

Posts: 0

December 16, 2011

Were you a GSI?

Avatar of:

Posts: 0

December 16, 2011

You do not have to be so angry. I am entitled to my point of view. I believe that the problems faced by GSRAs are not a union matter but a matter for the particular department/school. I will vote in the election.

For the record my father is in a union, and I am not against unions I just do not think the GSRAs need another union to be in.

I am sorry that even posted.

Avatar of:

Posts: 0

December 17, 2011

In Engineering, graduate programs don't recruit for GSIs. The primary funding method is the GSRA. We COMPETE with other schools such as Berkeley, MIT, and Stanford, for the brightest based on factors such as stipend and healthcare, but mostly for the quality of the research, and the topics present. This is directly coupled to the research done, because good research turns into grants, which invoke more research. Medical Residents on the other hand compete for their residencies. Graduate students in engineering had to compete to a certain extent, but the process is much more of a "Here i am, what can you offer me that the other institution couldn't" situation. GSI positions are generally filled by people who need funding sometime in the middle 
of their graduate education, generally due to timing issues with the various sources of funding available. Otherwise, they're usually voluntarily chosen by a professor's student or students in the department, because of the close relationships that form between professors and graduate students. They're not a result of direct recruitment. 

Unionizing GSIs would never have and will never affect recruitment because we don't recruit for GSIs. Unionizing Medical Residents will never affect recruitment, because the med school is not really competing for them, it's the other way around. Unionizing GSRA's will affect recruitment, because we recruit GSRAs.

PS:To the moron saying you can't compare Michigan to Berkeley, MIT, and Stanford; I did my undergrad at Berkeley, and Michigan is definitely comparable. Every national lab has a Michigan mafia because there's so many Michigan grads at the national labs. There's a reason it's been referred to as the Berkeley of the east.

Avatar of:

Posts: 0

December 17, 2011

Your description of the recruitment process sounds exactly like that for people in the social sciences. 

On this front: "Unionizing GSIs would never have and will never affect recruitment because we don't recruit for GSIs. Unionizing Medical Residents will never affect recruitment, because the med school is not really competing for them, it's the other way around. Unionizing GSRA's will affect recruitment, because we recruit GSRAs." There is a well-defined grad labor market that needs to be kept in equilibrium. While competitive factors matter (in all departments not just engineering), one segment of the labor force can't be allowed to slip too far below the other. At the same time, the less powerful segment (in terms of bargaining power) of the labor force will serve as a drag on the other segments. And the data that we see from UM is entirely consistent with this basic, non-controversial model of our labor market. But we do agree on one point, forming a GSRA union will impact recruitment and will improve it.

Avatar of:

Posts: 0

December 17, 2011

In Engineering, graduate programs don't recruit for GSIs. The primary funding method is the GSRA. We COMPETE with other schools such as Berkeley, MIT, and Stanford, for the brightest based on factors such as stipend and healthcare, but mostly for the quality of the research, and the topics present. This is directly coupled to the research done, because good research turns into grants, which invoke more research. Medical Residents on the other hand compete for their residencies. Graduate students in engineering had to compete to a certain extent, but the process is much more of a "Here i am, what can you offer me that the other institution couldn't" situation. GSI positions are generally filled by people who need funding sometime in the middle 
of their graduate education, generally due to timing issues with the various sources of funding available. Otherwise, they're usually voluntarily chosen by a professor's student or students in the department, because of the close relationships that form between professors and graduate students. They're not a result of direct recruitment. 

Unionizing GSIs would never have and will never affect recruitment because we don't recruit for GSIs. Unionizing Medical Residents will never affect recruitment, because the med school is not really competing for them, it's the other way around. Unionizing GSRA's will affect recruitment, because we recruit GSRAs.

PS:To the moron saying you can't compare Michigan to Berkeley, MIT, and Stanford; I did my undergrad at Berkeley, and Michigan is definitely comparable. Every national lab has a Michigan mafia because there's so many Michigan grads at the national labs. There's a reason it's been referred to as the Berkeley of the east.

Avatar of:

Posts: 0

December 17, 2011

Your description of the recruitment process sounds exactly like that for people in the social sciences. 

On this front: "Unionizing GSIs would never have and will never affect recruitment because we don't recruit for GSIs. Unionizing Medical Residents will never affect recruitment, because the med school is not really competing for them, it's the other way around. Unionizing GSRA's will affect recruitment, because we recruit GSRAs." There is a well-defined grad labor market that needs to be kept in equilibrium. While competitive factors matter (in all departments not just engineering), one segment of the labor force can't be allowed to slip too far below the other. At the same time, the less powerful segment (in terms of bargaining power) of the labor force will serve as a drag on the other segments. And the data that we see from UM is entirely consistent with this basic, non-controversial model of our labor market. But we do agree on one point, forming a GSRA union will impact recruitment and will improve it.

Avatar of: Shyam Dwaraknath

Shyam Dwaraknath

Posts: 1

December 17, 2011

In Engineering, graduate programs don't recruit for GSIs. The primary funding method is the GSRA. We COMPETE with other schools such as Berkeley, MIT, and Stanford, for the brightest based on factors such as stipend and healthcare, but mostly for the quality of the research, and the topics present. This is directly coupled to the research done, because good research turns into grants, which invoke more research. Medical Residents on the other hand compete for their residencies. Graduate students in engineering had to compete to a certain extent, but the process is much more of a "Here i am, what can you offer me that the other institution couldn't" situation. GSI positions are generally filled by people who need funding sometime in the middle 
of their graduate education, generally due to timing issues with the various sources of funding available. Otherwise, they're usually voluntarily chosen by a professor's student or students in the department, because of the close relationships that form between professors and graduate students. They're not a result of direct recruitment. 

Unionizing GSIs would never have and will never affect recruitment because we don't recruit for GSIs. Unionizing Medical Residents will never affect recruitment, because the med school is not really competing for them, it's the other way around. Unionizing GSRA's will affect recruitment, because we recruit GSRAs.

PS:To the moron saying you can't compare Michigan to Berkeley, MIT, and Stanford; I did my undergrad at Berkeley, and Michigan is definitely comparable. Every national lab has a Michigan mafia because there's so many Michigan grads at the national labs. There's a reason it's been referred to as the Berkeley of the east.

Avatar of: 22Victor22

22Victor22

Posts: 6

December 17, 2011

Your description of the recruitment process sounds exactly like that for people in the social sciences. 

On this front: "Unionizing GSIs would never have and will never affect recruitment because we don't recruit for GSIs. Unionizing Medical Residents will never affect recruitment, because the med school is not really competing for them, it's the other way around. Unionizing GSRA's will affect recruitment, because we recruit GSRAs." There is a well-defined grad labor market that needs to be kept in equilibrium. While competitive factors matter (in all departments not just engineering), one segment of the labor force can't be allowed to slip too far below the other. At the same time, the less powerful segment (in terms of bargaining power) of the labor force will serve as a drag on the other segments. And the data that we see from UM is entirely consistent with this basic, non-controversial model of our labor market. But we do agree on one point, forming a GSRA union will impact recruitment and will improve it.

Avatar of: UM_GSRA

UM_GSRA

Posts: 1

December 19, 2011

If your department isn't helping (which I find highly unlikely if there is a demonstrable problem) you can go directly to Academic HR or the Office of VP for Research.

By the way a union will in no way make you graduate any faster. Nor can a union put you on a paper that you did no work for (suggesting an idea does not always merit authorship).

The fact that you think you are one of the best ever to enter your lab is highly suspect. I've often noticed that those that think very highly of themselves tend to not listen to their adviser's criticism and so never improve their weaknesses. Of course your case may be different and I could be completely wrong, in which case refer to my first suggestion.

Avatar of:

Posts: 0

December 19, 2011

If your department isn't helping (which I find highly unlikely if there is a demonstrable problem) you can go directly to Academic HR or the Office of VP for Research.

By the way a union will in no way make you graduate any faster. Nor can a union put you on a paper that you did no work for (suggesting an idea does not always merit authorship).

The fact that you think you are one of the best ever to enter your lab is highly suspect. I've often noticed that those that think very highly of themselves tend to not listen to their adviser's criticism and so never improve their weaknesses. Of course your case may be different and I could be completely wrong, in which case refer to my first suggestion.

Avatar of:

Posts: 0

December 19, 2011

If your department isn't helping (which I find highly unlikely if there is a demonstrable problem) you can go directly to Academic HR or the Office of VP for Research.

By the way a union will in no way make you graduate any faster. Nor can a union put you on a paper that you did no work for (suggesting an idea does not always merit authorship).

The fact that you think you are one of the best ever to enter your lab is highly suspect. I've often noticed that those that think very highly of themselves tend to not listen to their adviser's criticism and so never improve their weaknesses. Of course your case may be different and I could be completely wrong, in which case refer to my first suggestion.

Avatar of:

Posts: 0

December 20, 2011

I myself have no interest in unionizing and every person I know in my department has no interest either.

Avatar of:

Posts: 0

December 20, 2011

If I had to join a union to be an Engineering grad student at Michigan, I would have chosen one of my many other options.

Avatar of: Benjamin Harris

Benjamin Harris

Posts: 2

December 20, 2011

I myself have no interest in unionizing and every person I know in my department has no interest either.

Avatar of: Benjamin Harris

Benjamin Harris

Posts: 2

December 20, 2011

If I had to join a union to be an Engineering grad student at Michigan, I would have chosen one of my many other options.

Avatar of:

Posts: 0

December 20, 2011

I myself have no interest in unionizing and every person I know in my department has no interest either.

Avatar of:

Posts: 0

December 20, 2011

If I had to join a union to be an Engineering grad student at Michigan, I would have chosen one of my many other options.

Avatar of:

Posts: 0

December 22, 2011

Grad students ... are students... This is stupid. The goal is to learn how difficult it is to establish a scientific concept.

Research and Teaching assistants are students... the goal is to learn how to perform research... and how to communicate and educate in a concise manner that is underatandable.

It's an honor to have such a position.  Plus, you have free will. You can refuse the position and pay full tuition.

Avatar of:

Posts: 0

December 22, 2011

David, your question about striking is a very good one (and a common concern). The broadest answer is that strikes are only democratically approved by a vote of the membership. I know that past practice in GEO at Michigan has been to require a super-majority of support from the members before the leadership calls for a work stoppage (if you don't have a vast majority of your members, you aren't going to have a strike that makes an impact.)  So if GSRAs don't want to strike, they won't vote to do so.

More narrowly, strikes are NOT only one way that union members can use to put pressure on the university -- there are other sorts of ways to pressure administrators that don't put immediate academic projects at risk, and those strategies would obviously be something a bargaining unit full of GSRAs would be more likely to employ.

Avatar of: rhansing

rhansing

Posts: 20

December 22, 2011

Grad students ... are students... This is stupid. The goal is to learn how difficult it is to establish a scientific concept.

Research and Teaching assistants are students... the goal is to learn how to perform research... and how to communicate and educate in a concise manner that is underatandable.

It's an honor to have such a position.  Plus, you have free will. You can refuse the position and pay full tuition.

Avatar of: Patrick O

Patrick O'Mahen

Posts: 1457

December 22, 2011

David, your question about striking is a very good one (and a common concern). The broadest answer is that strikes are only democratically approved by a vote of the membership. I know that past practice in GEO at Michigan has been to require a super-majority of support from the members before the leadership calls for a work stoppage (if you don't have a vast majority of your members, you aren't going to have a strike that makes an impact.)  So if GSRAs don't want to strike, they won't vote to do so.

More narrowly, strikes are NOT only one way that union members can use to put pressure on the university -- there are other sorts of ways to pressure administrators that don't put immediate academic projects at risk, and those strategies would obviously be something a bargaining unit full of GSRAs would be more likely to employ.

Avatar of:

Posts: 0

December 22, 2011

Grad students ... are students... This is stupid. The goal is to learn how difficult it is to establish a scientific concept.

Research and Teaching assistants are students... the goal is to learn how to perform research... and how to communicate and educate in a concise manner that is underatandable.

It's an honor to have such a position.  Plus, you have free will. You can refuse the position and pay full tuition.

Avatar of:

Posts: 0

December 22, 2011

David, your question about striking is a very good one (and a common concern). The broadest answer is that strikes are only democratically approved by a vote of the membership. I know that past practice in GEO at Michigan has been to require a super-majority of support from the members before the leadership calls for a work stoppage (if you don't have a vast majority of your members, you aren't going to have a strike that makes an impact.)  So if GSRAs don't want to strike, they won't vote to do so.

More narrowly, strikes are NOT only one way that union members can use to put pressure on the university -- there are other sorts of ways to pressure administrators that don't put immediate academic projects at risk, and those strategies would obviously be something a bargaining unit full of GSRAs would be more likely to employ.

Avatar of:

Posts: 0

December 23, 2011

Personalities and responsibilities may not be the issue. What should a student do if told she will be kicked out of the lab if she takes a doctor prescribed medical leave? Technically only employees are covered by the FMLA. Should a student lose his or her chance to pursue a graduate degree because of an unplanned illness or a death in the family? Unions may protect students in such situations.

Avatar of: Danni F

Danni F

Posts: 1457

December 23, 2011

Personalities and responsibilities may not be the issue. What should a student do if told she will be kicked out of the lab if she takes a doctor prescribed medical leave? Technically only employees are covered by the FMLA. Should a student lose his or her chance to pursue a graduate degree because of an unplanned illness or a death in the family? Unions may protect students in such situations.

Avatar of:

Posts: 0

December 23, 2011

Personalities and responsibilities may not be the issue. What should a student do if told she will be kicked out of the lab if she takes a doctor prescribed medical leave? Technically only employees are covered by the FMLA. Should a student lose his or her chance to pursue a graduate degree because of an unplanned illness or a death in the family? Unions may protect students in such situations.

Avatar of: Dana Davis

Dana Davis

Posts: 1

January 18, 2012

Grad students are not cheap labor. When you factor in stipends, benefits, including tuitions and fees, they cost as much if not more than starting post-docs (these costs are often shell gamed around to bring the cost to NIH grants below the maximum). Plus, grad students are taking classes, writing prelims, and not trained. A full time technician or post-doc is a much better cost-benefit situation. (Yes, you can anecdote examples that contradict this, but overall grad. students are not the cheap labor you suggest.)

Avatar of:

Posts: 0

January 18, 2012

Grad students are not cheap labor. When you factor in stipends, benefits, including tuitions and fees, they cost as much if not more than starting post-docs (these costs are often shell gamed around to bring the cost to NIH grants below the maximum). Plus, grad students are taking classes, writing prelims, and not trained. A full time technician or post-doc is a much better cost-benefit situation. (Yes, you can anecdote examples that contradict this, but overall grad. students are not the cheap labor you suggest.)

Avatar of:

Posts: 0

January 18, 2012

Grad students are not cheap labor. When you factor in stipends, benefits, including tuitions and fees, they cost as much if not more than starting post-docs (these costs are often shell gamed around to bring the cost to NIH grants below the maximum). Plus, grad students are taking classes, writing prelims, and not trained. A full time technician or post-doc is a much better cost-benefit situation. (Yes, you can anecdote examples that contradict this, but overall grad. students are not the cheap labor you suggest.)

Follow The Scientist

icon-facebook icon-linkedin icon-twitter icon-vimeo icon-youtube
Advertisement
The Scientist
The Scientist

Stay Connected with The Scientist

  • icon-facebook The Scientist Magazine
  • icon-facebook The Scientist Careers
  • icon-facebook Neuroscience Research Techniques
  • icon-facebook Genetic Research Techniques
  • icon-facebook Cell Culture Techniques
  • icon-facebook Microbiology and Immunology
  • icon-facebook Cancer Research and Technology
  • icon-facebook Stem Cell and Regenerative Science
Advertisement
Advertisement
NeuroScientistNews
NeuroScientistNews
Life Technologies