University of Michigan grad student says she lost her job over union effort

University says it has unions, doesn't support union busting

Published On: Jan 18 2012 05:16:33 PM EST   Updated On: Jan 20 2012 03:03:12 PM EST
Jennifer Dibbern
ANN ARBOR, Mich. -

A University of Michigan graduate student claims she lost her job after supporting efforts to unionize graduate student research assistants.

Jennifer Dibbern came to UM from M.I.T in 2007. She said her path to a doctorate was smooth sailing, teaching and working as a researcher in engineering. But at the end of last year, she said, she started supporting unionizing the graduate student research assistants.

“I was very active in talking with my fellow RA’s and I was very openly supportive of it,” Dibbern said.

The Michigan Employment Relations Commission in August affirmed a 1981 decision that bars research assistants from banding together. There's an ongoing dispute about whether that should be overturned.

Dibbern said when she and others successfully pushed for a union vote with the university, her supervisor, Rachel Goldman, gave her a warning.

“At that time, she expressed to me that unless I stopped all outside activities that she was going to fire me from my position. Two weeks after that date, she made good on that threat,” Dibbern said.

A spokesman for the university, Rick Fitzgerald, said Dibbern’s firing is an academic problem and wouldn’t comment specifically on her case. However, Fitzgerald said the university’s dozen unions is proof that it doesn’t support union busting.

“We don’t tolerate any acts of intimidation or retaliation for union organizing,” he said.  

Dibbern said she hasn’t filed any legal action yet.

“My story is a clear reason why we need a union for research grad assistants and I believe that I was fired from my position because I was opening supportive of that union and having my voice in my work,” she said.