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American Federation of Teachers approved by grad students as union affiliate

Grad students next to organize card campaign in steps toward unionization

By
Senior Staff Writer
Wednesday, March 22, 2017

In the March 19-21 affiliation vote organized by Stand Up for Graduate Student Employees, graduate student voters selected the American Federation of Teachers as their union affiliate should unionization occur, according to SUGSE members. AFT was chosen on Tuesday night over the United Automobile, Aerospace and Agricultural Implement Workers of America. SUGSE members had previously told The Herald that the results of the affiliation vote would be announced after spring break.

For graduate students to unionize, the union that they choose to affiliate with must organize a card campaign, in which a minimum of 30 percent of members of the bargaining unit must sign cards indicating that they want to join the union, Provost Richard Locke said.

The bargaining unit consists of graduate and undergraduate students who serve as teaching assistants and graduate research assistants, said Lubabah Chowdhury GS, a member of SUGSE. If unionization occurs, students included in the bargaining unit will pay dues as members of AFT and play a role in the negotiation of the union contract with the University, Chowdhury added.

AFT will not file with the National Labor Relations Board to hold a unionization vote unless 65 percent or more of eligible graduate students have signed cards in the card campaign, wrote Joseph Skitka GS, a member of SUGSE, in an email to The Herald. Waiting for a supermajority of 65 percent to commit to joining the union should ensure a vote in favor of unionization, he added.

The NLRB would then organize and administer the unionization election, Locke said. Several universities have negotiated pre-election agreements regarding logistics such as polling locations and the type of ballots used, he added.

“A union is going to make it a lot easier for us to bargain for things that affect all graduate students,” such as healthcare, childcare and spousal support, Chowdhury said.

As workers, graduate students have a right to form a legally protected, representative body that the University must recognize and incorporate into its governance structure, rather than act as individuals or advocacy groups, which the administration has no obligation to recognize, said Anne Gray Fischer GS, a member of SUGSE.

Graduate students have legitimate concerns, and “I want us to work on those issues … regardless of whether or not there is a union,” Locke said. A union “isn’t actually going to be able to address some of the issues that students have,” he added.