The following solidarity statements were issued in support of GSU’s unionization drive for graduate workers at the University of Chicago.
U.S. Senator Richard J. Durbin
U.S. Congressman Luis V. Gutiérrez
U.S. Senator Tammy Duckworth
Chelsea E. Manning
U.S. Senator Bernie Sanders
Alderman Leslie A. Hairston
IL State Representative Christian L. Mitchell
Georgetown Alliance of Graduate Employees (GAGE)
Prayer and Action Collective
“The Prayer and Action Collective gives GSU our full-hearted support for their fight to unionize. Our own projects include organizing with the Coalition for a Community Benefits Agreement (CBA) for the incoming Obama Library, as well as our continued engagement with shaping the UChicago trauma center we helped make possible as part of the Trauma Care Coalition. We believe in supporting movements of people organized to fight for their own material needs, whether that’s affordable housing, green space, and healthcare for Black youth and other Southsiders, or that’s fair pay, benefits, and bargaining rights for the people who make our university function. GSU was an early supporter of the fight for critical trauma care on the mid-South Side, and we are grateful for their amplifying our media and coming out to our events over time. Plus a lot of y’all have been our teachers and TAs here. Bless, and good luck with the struggle against the corporatization of the university.”
Student Library Employee Union, University of Chicago
“As library employees, we know firsthand that many students perform labor and deserve the right to unionize. As students, we know that grad students with better working conditions are better TA’s and lecturers. We, the Student Library Employee Union (SLEU), stand in solidarity with Graduate Students United as members of the same student-worker community striving for a more just and democratic university.”
Students Working Against Prisons, University of Chicago
Anne Pasek from NYU GSOC (UAW Local 2110)
Dear University of Chicago Graduate Students and Workers,
Hello. My name is Anne Pasek and I am a PhD student at New York University in the Department of Media, Culture, and Communication. I study environmental politics and the history of climate science while also working as a TA and research assistant. Outside of my academic life, I am also an activist in our graduate student workers’ union, GSOC-UAW-Local 2110, where I have served as a steward for the past two years. On a more personal note I am an international student who came to study in the US with a dependent. I want to write to you in all three of these capacities to share my perspective on unionization and to rebut many of the claims your president has made on this matter.
On Tuesday, May 9th Robert Zimmer sent you an email discussing the state of grad worker union prospects at the University of Chicago, heavily implying that such efforts were ill-advised. These kinds of union-disparaging letters are very common (we got one ourselves), so to those of us who are following your efforts from afar this turn of events was not in itself surprising. What was shocking, however, was the discovery that GSOC is now being held up as a warning case for what can go wrong in a grad worker union. Let me be clear: Zimmer profoundly misunderstands—or perhaps just deliberately misrepresents—the gains we’ve made at NYU. Please allow me to correct the record.
Zimmer claims that gains for NYU grad workers were “relatively modest, and it is not clear that they exceed what students would have received without union representation.” To me, this is laughable because, in addition to the minimum 2.25-2.5% raise PhDs get every year (on both our hourly wages and our stipends in years that we’re fully funded) we also receive a range of benefits. In my own case this year, these benefits include a 90% personal health insurance subsidy ($2,427.30) and a 75% health insurance subsidy for my partner ($2,022.75); free student dental ($240); and waivers for matriculation fees ($3,192), service fees ($958), and international student fees ($180). These benefits represent $9,020.05 per year that, because of the union contract, now stays in my pocket. This makes an incredible difference in my ability to stay in NYC and complete my degree without taking on outside jobs or student debt. And this is all before the annual raise I get on top of my wages.
Not everyone faces similar expenses, of course, but I think that’s one of the best things about union contracts. Negotiated right, they prioritize helping students and workers with the greatest economic challenges, raising the bar for everyone in the process. For example, although I am not currently affected by such gains, I am incredibly proud that our union fought to raise the minimum wage from $10/hour to $15/hour in the first year of our contract (next year it will rise to $17), to establish a childcare fund for the parents of young children that pays out more than $2,000 a year, and paid sick leave provisions that have provided lifelines to birth mothers and the unexpectedly infirm.
Beyond putting money in grad student worker pockets, we’ve also been a key defender of grad worker rights in the interpersonally complex landscape of academia. For example, when NYU messed up international student taxes and refused to fix its mess, we got together and forced them to. When NYU arbitrarily didn’t pay thousands of workers for weeks, we raised hell. When classes got suddenly canceled, we were there for our colleagues, winning them settlements that ensured that they didn’t suddenly have to deal with a $5,000 shortfall in their budgets. And, most extravagantly, when one asshole professor refused to graduate a PhD student unless she changed the name of her art gallery to something more to his liking (!) we shut that shit down right away.
We’ve accomplished a lot in these two short years since contract ratification, and we’re still gathering momentum. Contrary to Zimmer’s claim, these are not the kinds of gains that follow from individuals negotiating with their employer one-on-one (especially when that employer decides not just if and when you’ll work again, but if and when you’ll graduate). The collective power of a union is essential to winning what is otherwise unwinnable and ensuring that every worker has an advocate that, in times of trial, is responsible only to them.
President Zimmer asked you to approach the question of unionization with “the standards of collegiality and intellectual rigor that apply to all academic questions at the University.” This leads me to believe that he has failed you by his own measure. His characterization of collective bargaining at NYU is simply factually incorrect. Our contract gains are considerable, and no one is making less money under the union than they would have without it, even after dues are deducted (in fact we have a clause in our contract securing this outcome!). Our post-contract grievances and advocacy efforts have been key in resolving complaints and injustices the administration is all too keen to dismiss as their sole prerogative, even when it is our livelihoods and careers at stake. Our advisors, rather than shirking in fear of overstepping the union line, have been some of its greatest advocates and defenders. Two years in, unionization has been a clear success from the point of view of its workers. The fact that executive administrators don’t always share this opinion is, to me, only a further endorsement.
So I urge you, in pursuit of the open dialogue and quality debate that your president professes to defend, to stand up to this man, his lies, and his abuse of his position of authority. Unlike Zimmer, you can’t email every single student on campus with half-truths and condescending rhetoric, but you can talk to one another in departments, townhalls, and meetings about what you want to build for one another. You can organize and collectively bargain. You can fight for contracts that bring you the gains that are the most important to your community and you can refuse to settle when the university offers you anything less. You can win a contract and a union and you can better your working and living conditions in the process. You just need to do it together with courage and all the facts.
Yours In Solidarity,
PhD Student, Department of Media, Culture, and Communication, Steinhardt School, NYU
Union Steward, GSOC-UAW-Local 2110
Student Government Executive Slate, University of Chicago
The University of Chicago Student Government Executive Slate stands in full solidarity with Graduate Students United (AFT-IFT-AAUP) and the Student Library Employees Union (SLEU) in their struggle towards unionization and collective bargaining rights, and calls on Robert Zimmer and the University of Chicago administration to voluntarily recognize these unions in order to facilitate a more just, democratic, and open university.
Eric Holmberg, President
Salma Elkhaoudi, Vice President for Administration
Cody Jones, Vice President for Student Affairs
Graduate Workers of Columbia (GWC-UAW Local 2110)
We, the Graduate Workers of Columbia (GWC-UAW Local 2110), congratulate graduate workers at the University of Chicago, Graduate Students United (GSU-AFT/IFT/AAUP) on filing their petition with the National Labor Relations Board and exercising their right to collective bargaining. They join a flourishing movement across American campuses that seeks to create fairer and better universities. GWC stands in solidarity with our fellow graduate workers at Chicago, whose labor—like ours and many others’—makes world-class education and research possible. We look forward to further developments and future success in their campaign.
We urge all of our colleagues at the University of Chicago to vote yes for their union, as we did in December 2016, when 72% of Columbia research and teaching assistants voted to unionize in recognition of the fact that #WeAreWorkers.
Graduate Workers of Columbia-UAW Local 2110,
UCLA Graduate Union
Masters in Humanities Program (MAPH) Preceptors, University of Chicago
The MAPH preceptors unanimously stand in solidarity with all University of Chicago graduate workers seeking a union.
As graduate workers across a range of academic disciplines, we serve as the primary teachers, advisors and mentors for the program, and are critical to its success. We wholeheartedly support collective bargaining as an effective, principled, and proven mechanism in workplace advocacy, and protecting the basic rights of workers.
We join with Graduate Students United in demanding fair pay, fair benefits, and fair labor conditions for all graduate workers.
Local 33-UNITE HERE at Yale University
Heartland Faculty Association AFT-IFT Local 6038
The Heartland Faculty Association AFT-IFT #6038 sends greetings to the Graduate Students United and the Student Library Employees Union of the University of Chicago.
The Graduate Students of the University Chicago have our admiration and respect for calling for a union. Unionization has been wonderful for our faculty and we wish you the best with your campaign.
Among the most exploited group of professional teachers are the graduate students at the universities in this country. Improving conditions for graduate students will improved conditions for all people at the university. Unionize will be a positive development for graduate students, students, faculty, and the whole university.
We encourage the University of Chicago Board to remain neutral as graduate students decide how they will vote. A fair election is a moral imperative in a democratic society.
Edward V. Carroll
Heartland Faculty Association
National Nurses United, University of Chicago Medical Center (UCMC)
Phoenix Survivors Alliance
“The members of Phoenix Survivors Alliance would like to express enthusiastic support for Graduate Students Union, who recently filed for unionization at the University of Chicago. As a fellow advocacy group, we appreciate the work that GSU has done to advocate for more student worker power on campus, and we believe that unionization is a huge and important step for getting more students a seat at the table. Further, a strong union can only lead to stronger protections for graduate student workers under Title IX.”
UChicago Socialists, A Chapter of the International Socialist Organization
UIC United Faculty Local #6456
May 22, 2017
Dear members of Graduate Students United:
We fully support your courageous effort to unionize graduate workers at the University of Chicago. As vital members of the university, your rights matter.
Organizing a union is about getting more rights and more power. With our civil rights under attack, it is critical that we collectively speak up for the rights we all deserve. This includes better working conditions and wages, affordable health care and a seat at the decision making table.
Be confident in your struggle. You are paving the way for graduate workers at private institutions across this country. And be assured you are not alone – along with many others, UIC United Faculty is standing with you as you prevail. You will win this.
Janet Smith, President
UIC United Faculty
AFT-IFT, AAUP, AFL-CIO
James R. Barrett (University of Illinois, Urbana-Champaign)
September 21, 2017
Dear members of Graduate Students United:
As scholar of labor, a retired university professor, and a Chicagoan, I’ve been greatly heartened by your campaign at the University of Chicago. I understand how vital graduate workers employees are vital to teaching and research at the University of Chicago and other institutions across the US. The high profile of the U of C means that colleagues across the country will be watching closely what happens there. In this moment when democracy is under stack in our country, collective bargaining offers workers a rare opportunity to gain a voice and protect their conditions of employment. In an era of unprecedented inequality, Unions provide a vital tool to confront those pursuing an even greater maldistribution of wealth in our country. Your struggle will not only help to ensure affordable healthcare, better wages and working conditions; it is an important effort to protect democracy.
Yours is the most recent effort in a long struggle to achieve these ends. In this sense, history is on your side. Our own Graduate Employees Organization, has not only significantly improved the conditions of this important group of workers, but has also transformed the culture on our campus.
I wish you the very best in this extremely important struggle.
James R. Barrett,
Professor of History Emeritus,
University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign
Executive Committee member, Campus Faculty Association
David Roediger (University of Kansas)
September 21, 2017
Dear members of Graduate Students United:
We would like to offer our support to your endeavors at the University of Chicago. As graduate workers you are vital to the mission of the university and your rights matter. Organizing a union in your workplace is about getting more rights and more power. Unions are the backbone of our country and not only help to ensure getting affordable healthcare, better wages and working conditions, but also defend our civil rights.
When we pressure universities to do something like the right thing—like recognizing democratically organized bodies of workers—we often couch matters in terms of institutions living up to their best ideals. That’s part of the story and an argument I have used often enough. But elite universities and not so elite ones also have long and continuing histories of forwarding oppression: breaking unions, measuring skulls to construct justifications for white supremacy, overthrowing the government of Chile, supporting eugenics, conducting hideous medical experiments on vulnerable populations, gobbling up surrounding neighborhoods, using slave labor and slave sales to expand, sacrificing education to bottom lines and donor pressure, reproducing lack of access and patterns of inequality, and much more. It is true, and must probably be paramount in organizing, that academic workers need unions. But universities also need unions as at least a small counterweight to the institutions’s own worst impulses, habits, and practices.
Foundation Distinguished Professor of History
University of Kansas