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Grad Students Challenge MSU To Allow Them To Form Union

By Jess Antonio
Published On: Apr 12 2012 05:53:25 AM MDT
Updated On: Apr 12 2012 06:11:08 AM MDT
BOZEMAN, Mont. -

MSU graduate students want to unionize to receive benefits, but the university is taking the matter to district court, arguing there are major differences between a grad student and a state employee.

Earlier this week Montana State graduate students voted overwhelmingly in favor of forming a union. They say with the work they do they should be viewed as employees, not just as students.

"We come to work every day and we have a job description that we have to live up to. And we're evaluated on that and our employment as graduate students is contingent upon a review," said MSU grad student Robert Fischer.

School officials disagree, the Associate Commissioner of Higher Education, Kevin McRae is working with MSU to try to draw a clear line between employees and students.

"Our position is that the graduate students, there are a number of differences with regard to the university system's relationship with students and the university system's relationship with our employees," said McRae.

In November the state board of Personnel Appeals said grad students legally had the right to create the union.

The university is challenging that decision in district court in Helena. They're asking the court to determine whether a grad student and a state employee are the same thing. But say they will bargain if the court rules against the university.

"So there's definitely no desire to not bargain with employees who have rights to bargain, we're just asking the court are graduate students state employees," asked McRae.

The grad students argue without a union and proper benefits, the university may not be able to attract the top students and research projects.

"I think that's one of the big selling points of the union is we need to remain competitive so we keep getting in research dollars, good teachers for Montana and if we want to do that we have to attract that sort of person," said grad student Joshua Heinemann.

No date has been set for the hearing.