October 23, 2017

University of Chicago Graduate Students Vote to Unionize

CHICAGO, ILLINOIS—In a ballot held October 17 and 18, graduate students at the University of Chicago voted to form a graduate student workers union, Pete Grieve, Feng Ye, and Alex Ward report for the Chicago Maroon, the university’s student newspaper. The final vote found 1,103 in favor, 479 opposed, and 149 challenged votes; more than seventy per cent of eligible graduate students participated. The unionization vote follows ten years of organizing and has been met active campaign against the effort by university administration, including several petitions to the National Labor Review Board to postpone the election.

Graduate student employees will be represented by Graduate Students United, a union affiliated with the American Federation of the Teachers, Illinois Federation of Teachers and the American Association of University Professors. More than 2,500 graduate student teachers, researchers, and lecturers at the University of Chicago are eligible for membership. Union elections will be held in the coming weeks.

Following the NLRB’s August 2016 decision recognizing graduate student workers at private universities as employees, unionization votes have been held at Columbia, Yale, and Harvard universities, among many others, with varying success. A vote in favor was narrowly defeated at Harvard, while Columbia and Yale have both mounted legal challenges to ballots in favor of unionization. In May, a hunger strike at Yale protesting the university’s response to the vote lasted more than one month, gaining nationwide attention in the process.

Despite the overwhelming support for unionization, the university has not said it will validate the results. “The University of Chicago has joined several other universities in asking the [National Labor Relations Board] to revisit its recent reversal of position on this question, and our request is pending,” said Marielle Sainvilus, university director of public affairs. “We continue to have concerns about the impact of a graduate student union on the university’s mission of creating and imparting knowledge through direct mentorship, teaching, and individually guided research and writing.”

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