Labor Beat Covers GSU’s Pre-Election Rally and Victory in Union-Recognition Elections on Oct 17-18

Labor Beat, a non-profit CAN TV Community Partner based in Chicago, IL, recently published a video on their YouTube channel covering our pre-election rally and victory in the union-recognition election at the University of Chicago on October 17-18.

The video includes an interview with Chaz Lee and Daniela Palmer, members of GSU and graduate employees in Music and Evolutionary Biology, respectively. In addition, the video includes scenes and some of the speeches by the speakers at our rally on Oct 16:

WE WON: Historic Landslide Victory for Grad Workers at UChicago

We won - GSU announcement

We DID IT! After a decade of organizing, countless conversations, and a thrilling election closely followed across the country (see, for example, here, here, here and here), grad employees at the University of Chicago overwhelmingly voted YES to recognize Graduate Students United as their union!

This high-turnout, supermajority win represents grad workers’ strong mandate to advocate for their own interests on this campus. The university administration is now legally obligated to bargain with us, the employees that keep our university afloat with our real labor as teaching assistants, research assistants, course assistants, workshop coordinators, writing interns, preceptors, language assistants, instructors, and lecturers.

We have a strong union. We claimed our right to a seat at the table. We now have the fantastic opportunity and responsibility to work together, bargain together, and envision together as we continue to build upon our democratic union, fight for an excellent contract, and advocate for grad employees on campus.

Today we celebrate. Tomorrow we get back to work – as a RECOGNIZED UNION!

A Message on Faculty – Graduate Employee Relationships by Professor Robert Johnston and Dr. Tom Alter

In a week, University of Chicago graduate employees will vote whether to unionize. Giving more power to grad workers frightens a few faculty members and most administrators, who claim that unions disrupt the harmonious relationship between faculty and their students. Happily, we can attest that graduate student unions do not harm the advisor/advisee relationship.

The two of us, Robert Johnston and Tom Alter, had a positive advisor/advisee relationship throughout Tom’s doctoral studies in History at the University of Illinois, Chicago (UIC), which has had a grad union since 2004. Unionism was part of our relationship from the beginning. Tom joined the Graduate Employee Organization as soon as he arrived on campus. By the end of Tom’s first year, he had become a department steward, and he was active in campus organizing and contract negotiations.

Tom’s unionism did not interfere with our pedagogical relationship. Indeed, we’ve never heard of a case where any faculty member or graduate student at UIC expressed any concern about the union harming collegial and mentoring relationships. The same is true for Yale, where Robert taught for nine years. Unionized graduate assistants and faculty continued to collaborate as before.

Of course, some UofC faculty make claims to the contrary. Economics professor Derek Neal worried that with a union “faculty would no longer see their teaching assistants as mentees and future peers.” Dean David Nirenberg fretted that a union would reduce all collaboration to “an economic calculus.” Such dire predictions, crucially, never come with any factual evidentiary support.

Truth to tell, the situation is quite the opposite. Grad unions provide security, respect, and appropriate rules, allowing master’s and doctoral students to flourish. Union work rule are not dictated by national unions but formulated by graduate students themselves, then negotiated with the administration. They simply do not impinge on areas related to mentorship. This finding has been borne out in peer-reviewed research that examined dozens of universities with grad unions.

A union means having a democratic voice at the table when decisions are made affecting your work. It can profoundly improve the working conditions of grads, and it can also bolster the relationship that you have with your advisor or PI. Don’t be afraid to Vote YES!

–Tom Alter, Lecturer in History, Texas State (UIC Ph.D. 2016) and Robert Johnston, Professor of History, University of Illinois at Chicago (Tom’s advisor)

You Can’t Silence Us! A Message From GSU Members

Message on Review FilingLate Friday afternoon, on the eve of the new academic year, the University administration requested that the National Labor Relations Board (NLRB) review its election order for University of Chicago graduate employees. Continuing its anti-democratic stalling tactics, the administration also requested that the Board either stay our election or impound our ballots. The admin seeks to block our voices from being heard through the ballot box.

The timing of the filing was no accident. The administration waited until it was sure that the Senate would confirm William Emanuel, a Trump administration appointee to the national NLRB, in the hopes that the new anti-worker majority on the Board would reverse the 2016 decision that recognized graduate workers at private universities as employees eligible for collective bargaining.

The University of Chicago touts itself as a home for free inquiry and debate; the university administration has long called for rigorous and informed discussion of grad unionization. But this lofty rhetoric has vanished in the face of the admin’s recent actions. It uses specious arguments such as “most of their experiments fail” to discount our value to the institution, while insinuating that unionization would damage the relationships that graduate students have with our PI’s and advisors (despite peer-reviewed research to the contrary). Now, having been ordered to hold an election by the NLRB Regional Director, the administration wants to simply deny grad workers the right to choose a union.

The administration’s actions send an unmistakable message to graduate employees. Graduate workers teach courses, conduct research, and perform other work that make the University of Chicago a world-renowned institution. But grads are not valued as equal or capable members of our community; we evidently cannot even be trusted to vote on whether or not to vote for a union. Our message back to the admin: You can’t silence us!

If you agree that we deserve a voice through a union, please stand with your colleagues and sign our VOTE YES petition.

A Welcome Back Message from GSU Member Kamil

Kamil - welcome back message

My fellow graduate students,

Welcome back to the University of Chicago. Whether this is your final year or you are just beginning your graduate studies, I’m thrilled to have you as a colleague. This is the start of my sixth year in Developmental Biology, and I am excited because every September brings the opportunity to forge new connections and generate new ideas. Graduate school tends to isolate us. It’s easy to believe that we are making this difficult journey alone or that the challenges are solely individual, even when the problems (such as inadequate health insurance or skimpy paychecks that aren’t always paid on time) are collective ones. But grad workers are the backbone of the University, and our labor produces immense value for this institution. That’s why I am a member of Graduate Students United (GSU). Through our union, I have a voice to address the problems that affect me and my colleagues. And through GSU, I have found supportive friends across campus that I would have not met otherwise.

This October we will vote for legal recognition of our union, and I hope that you will join us by signing our public VOTE YES petition. And I invite you to check our Facebook page to attend the events GSU is hosting. Together, we will make UChicago a truly excellent place for teaching and learning!