If you get into a Ph.D. program, are you there to learn and do research, like an academic, or are you there to earn a wage, like a corporate researcher? Basically, are you still a student or are you an employee?
A group of Michigan students who had sought to unionize a year ago has been denied. A few weeks back, Gov. Rick Snyder signed legislation clarifying that graduate student research assistants are not public employees as recognized by the state Public Employment Relations Act. So they can't form a union.
Without question, graduate students and post-docs are not well paid but unionizing won't help with that. In truth, academia produces six times as many Ph.D.s as it can employ in the public sector so artificially boosting wages for a few would just mean fewer research assistants can get jobs in government-funded labs and have to go work in the corporate world.
Government work certainly pays better than the private sector, so their interest is understandable - they get taxpayer money and at greater salaries than the private sector now gets, better benefits and a union to negotiate raises for them - and the verbage from activists was bombastic in response.
“We were clearly disappointed – disturbed, even – that our rights as graduate employees were attacked in this manner,” said Graduate Employees Organization President Samantha Montgomery, who clearly has never even read about, much less been a victim of, an actual attack or she wouldn't demean crime victims so casually. You're not an employee because you get paid a stipend, you get a 1099, Sam. It's simple.
Claiming you are not students was a silly route to take because then the government got to decide on the merits of that and not have to look anti-union, especially since they are the most pro-union state in the nation and that is why you tried there.
Michigan Grad Students Can't Unionize