Guidelines for university representatives prior to the GSRA union representation election

July 19, 2011

The possible election for union representation by graduate student research assistants (GSRAs) is an important issue for graduate students, faculty and the university as a whole.

The University of Michigan is committed to a fair process and the full participation of all eligible GSRAs. It is essential that all graduate students engage in full and free exploration of all dimensions of this important issue.

As representatives of the university, deans, chairs, directors, principal investigators, other supervisors of graduate student research assistants, and faculty and staff in general should review the following guidelines concerning the union’s organizing campaign:

Representatives of the university MAY:

  • Request that GSRAs refrain from engaging in union activity in work areas during working hours.
  • Request unknown persons on university premises to identify themselves and state their reasons for being in the area.
  • Request that distribution of literature not be done during work time or in work areas.
  • Correct or clarify misleading statements.
  • Advise GSRAs that whether they are represented by a union will be determined by the majority of GSRAs who vote.  The university may urge GSRAs to vote in the election, and may stress the importance of each GSRA vote, since the GSRAs who vote, no matter the number, will determine the unionization question for the entire group.
  • Inform GSRAs that anyone who signed an “authorization card” (a form indicating that the individual was interested in being represented by the union) still has the right to vote either “no” or “yes” in the election.
  • Tell GSRAs that if a union is certified as their sole and exclusive bargaining agent, all wages and conditions of employment must be negotiated with the university.  Nothing is guaranteed, since all provisions of the labor agreement must be negotiated, and both the union and the university may reject the other side’s demands.
  • Inform GSRAs that unions typically negotiate contract provisions that require all members to pay the union a percentage of their salary in union dues or service charges. You may also outline to GSRAs the costs of the dues or service fees set by the union for GSIs and GSSAs. During the 2010-11 academic year, GEO dues were 1.63% of salary and the service fee was 1.53% of salary.  For a GSI with a half-time appointment at the minimum salary rate during the academic year, this equaled about $280 per year in union dues.
  • Advise GSRAs that attendance at union meetings is voluntary.
  • Express their personal opinions about unionization of GSRAs, as long as theydo not express any implied threat or promise of benefit.  It is important for GSRAs to hear from faculty and academic leadership about the potential effects of unionization.
  • Educate GSRAs on the history of wage and benefit improvements that have been provided without a union, describing the full extent of existing benefits (important because the union may be promising benefits they already have),provided that they may not promise to raise these benefits if the union is rejected, and may not threaten to reduce the benefits if the union is selected.
  • Educate GSRAs about existing GSRA resources within the particular school or college, as well as resources available through Rackham and through central university offices (e.g., dispute resolution procedures).
  • Advise GSRAs that since the university may be required to provide their names to the union, organizers may telephone or visit them.
  • Educate GSRAs about job actions, such as strikes, that GEO has conducted in the past and that such job actions are illegal under Michigan law.
  • Remind GSRAs that the law prohibits a union from treating an individual less favorably because he or she chose not to support or become a member of the union before or after an election.

Representatives of the university MAY NOT:

  • Attend union meetings or position themselves for the purpose of observing who enters a union meeting or otherwise engages in union activities.
  • Prohibit individuals from passing out “organizing effort literature” in non-working areas during non-working hours.
  • Bar GSRAs from soliciting during non-working hours in non-work areas.Also, do not prevent GSRAs from wearing union buttons or insignia unless there are special circumstances justifying such a prohibition (e.g., safety).
  • Prevent individuals from talking with each other during their free time, including before and after work, rest periods, or lunch periods.
  • Threaten to discharge, discipline or negatively impact the student status of a GSRA who engages in legal union activities, or expresses views or support for unions, or in any way deter them from union activities, or reduce privileges or implement policies that may appear to be an attempt to punish GSRAs for organizing activity.
  • Promise salary increases, benefits, or other special concessions or give employees special favors for influencing other employees against the organizing effort.  Do not promise or infer that more lenient policies or special benefits may be provided if GSRAs vote down the union.
  • Ask GSRAs about confidential union matters or meetings, or ask what they think of the union or union representatives or about any affiliation with a union or how they are going to vote. GSRAs may volunteer information and if they do, you may, of course, listen.
  • Prevent GSRAs from having discussions with “employee organization” officials during non-working time in public use areas to the extent such discussions are otherwise allowed by the academic unit.
  • Use class time to discuss the organizing effort.
  • Indicate that the university, or you as a representative of the university, will not deal with a union.
  • Determine union or non-union affiliation or preference during an interview in preparation for appointing or reappointing a GSRA, or allow this to be a factor in such decisions.

Please contact Academic Human Resources (734-763-8938) to ask questions or share concerns.

Back to Key Issues