I had intended to blog about this, but Henry Farrell at Crooked Timber beat me to it. The story goes like this: Jennifer Dibbern, a graduate student at the University of Michigan, was retaliated against for her union activism. It’s as simple as that.
Henry is more cautious in telling the story than I am, but having led a campaign for graduate student unionization at Yale, and having been retaliated against for my activism—experiences I wrote about here and here—I see all the tell-tale signs of retaliation.
In any event, Henry has lots of links to help you decide what went down at Michigan. And here are some more. Also check out Henry’s excellent follow-up post, in which he itemizes some of the arguments that are perennially trotted out against graduate student unionization. Reading these golden oldies, I feel like I’m watching reruns of Gilligan’s Island. I mean are we seriously still having this conversation?
If you want to take some action, write an email (sample text below) to any and all of the following university officials. Be civil, be polite, but be firm. Personal emails are always better.
Dear [ ],
I write to protest the illegal firing of GSRA Jennifer Dibbern for union organizing. I demand justice for Ms. Dibbern and that the university stop intimidating GSRAs and commit to neutrality in any GSRA union election.
Update (February 7, 10 am)
It may not be clear from the public statements and media coverage how outspoken an anti-union advocate Prof. Goldman is. She attended MERC meetings in Lansing (over an hour from Ann Arbor), as well as informational sessions, to keep tabs on the unionizing effort. She also spoke out against the union often inside her own lab. Although Prof. Goldman has a reputation for running a very intense lab, no other student was ever told (to my knowledge) to curtail other outside activities (such as participation in sports, or family obligations). The first allegations made by Prof. Goldman of specific failures were in the email linked above, dated August 8 (after having favorably reviewed Dibbern’s progress just two months earlier). Prof. Goldman fired Dibbern just three weeks later. If the issue were primarily Dibbern’s academic performance, why not follow the usual procedures, inform her of her failures, evaluate her responses, and walk through the appropriate procedures? While not an ironclad case, I believe the evidence – the timing, the failure to follow procedures, and Prof. Goldman’s outspoken anti-union stance – is together persuasive that Dibbern was fired for refusing to quit her union activities, not for her failures in the lab.