In October, graduate workers at the University of Chicago made history: we voted 1103-479 to demand that the university recognize our union, Graduate Students United (GSU). In the months since, the University of Chicago administration has refused to respect the results of that election and begin bargaining a contract. They have made clear in recent public statements that they intend to continue their appeal to the Trump-controlled National Labor Relations Board (NLRB), and seek to overturn the board’s 2016 Columbia decision that recognized graduate workers across the country as what we are: employees.
Today, Graduate Students United withdrew our certificate of representation granted by the NLRB in order to prevent the University of Chicago from using the Trump Administration to overturn the Columbia precedent. This decision was made by a vote of members at our weekly open organizing committee meeting, based on concerns that a review of our case was imminent. Just today, the University administration filed a letter with the NLRB asking that “The Board should grant Chicago’s RFR [Request for Review], reverse the Regional Director’s decision and overrule Columbia.”
This action became necessary because of developments at the national level. Since taking office, Donald Trump has appointed two new members to the five-member NLRB. These appointees moved quickly to undo a number of pro-worker decisions that were made under the Obama administration. This week the U.S. Senate is advancing the confirmation of his third appointment, John Ring; at the same time, the UChicago administration argued today against the recusal of Trump appointee Marvin Kaplan (whose wife works for Columbia University) from presiding over cases related to the Columbia precedent in a naked attempt to strip graduate workers of our rights. We believe that these new NLRB appointees will overturn the Columbia precedent, meaning that it could take years for graduate workers to regain their legal status as employees even after a new president appoints a new board. It’s clear that the Trump appointees don’t have the best interests of workers like us at heart, and therefore we plan to pursue alternate pathways toward winning recognition and a contract.
To be very clear: Graduate Students United is still a union, and we look forward to meeting the UChicago administration at the bargaining table. The University of Chicago and other universities are using the NLRB as a vehicle to deny our rights and not respect our vote, our win, and our demand to bargain. In response, GSU is joining graduate unions at other institutions who have withdrawn from the NLRB process and are instead demanding recognition directly from their universities. Many unions across the country have reached private agreements with their employers independent from the NLRB. Through our organizing, GSU has built the power to wage a campaign to win such an agreement. Our union has the support of a supermajority of graduate employees at UChicago, whose work is necessary for the university to function.
We live in a moment when we all must do our part to fight back against the powerful interests that are working to undermine democracy. Accordingly, we cannot allow the Trump administration and UChicago to set an anti-democratic and anti-worker legal precedent for the entire country. However, we are equally determined to not allow Zimmer and Diermeier to ignore the results of our election, and we will continue to campaign until they recognize our decision and come to the table.
We are moving forward with our efforts to build our local in partnership with our affiliates, AFT/IFT/AAUP. In the coming weeks, we will hold officer elections and continue the process of setting up our union organization. If you are a member, we will be reaching out soon with more specific information about how to get involved in these processes. If you are not yet a member, sign a membership card today or reach out and we can answer any questions you have.
A union is a group of workers acting collectively to better their working conditions. Together, we will win recognition and a union contract that guarantees living wages, quality healthcare, and fair treatment for all graduate workers at UChicago.