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U of M graduate student workers vote overwhelmingly to unionize

The U of M graduate workers began their union authorization card drive February 20 with a bang. The union’s Facebook page reported: “What an incredible day! In less than twelve hours, over 1,700 graduate workers signed their union cards. The number of signatures we collected on our first day ranks among the highest ever recorded for the first day of a graduate worker union drive, surpassing recent powerhouse campaigns at Princeton, Northwestern, MIT, UChicago and Johns Hopkins.”

From the Minneapolis Labor Review, May 27, 2023

By Steve Share, Minneapolis Labor Review editor

MINNEAPOLIS — Joining a wave of union organizing by graduate student workers across the country, graduate students who teach classes and conduct research at the University of Minnesota voted overwhelmingly to organize in an election conducted by the Minnesota Bureau of Mediation Services.

The official tally, certified April 28, was 2,487 voting yes and 70 voting no — that’s more than 97 percent voting yes.

The new University of Minnesota Graduate Labor Union is affiliated with the United Electrical, Radio and Machine Workers of America (UE).

The new bargaining unit will represent more than 4,100 graduate student workers.

More than 61 percent of eligible workers voted in the election, reported graduate student worker Rachel Bergman, discussing the organizing win at the May 10 delegate meeting of the Minneapolis Regional Labor Federation, AFL-CIO.

“We’re excited to join the other unions on campus with the Teamsters and AFSCME Local 3800 and to just join the great labor movement that’s here in the Twin Cities,” Bergman said.

This was the sixth time that graduate student workers have voted in a union election over the years — but each previous vote was a lopsided “no” vote.

“In the last year, so many graduate unions have formed so I think that was really helpful momentum for us and kept us energized,” Bergman said.

Bergman said the organizers of the Minnesota graduate student union campaign spoke with other campus organizers at MIT, Johns Hopkins, Princeton, and Dartmouth. “We had people who could show us the ropes and give us guidance.”

“This has been a campaign that’s been going on for three years at this point,” Bergman said. “A lot of relationships were built and nurtured.”

One difference from previous graduate student organizing campaigns at the U, she said, was better relationship-building with graduate students in the STEM departments (Science, Technology, Engineering, Math) and with international students.

The graduate students organizing campaign advocated for a platform including:
• Higher pay and lower fees;
• Comprehensive benefits;
• Transparency and security on the job;
• Anti-discrimination, anti-harassment, and employment grievance procedures,
• Increased support for international graduate workers;
• Justice for Minnesota communities.

“We strive to improve conditions for graduate workers, all University workers, and people across Minnesota,” the platform read.

Bergman told MRLF delegates that the University of Minnesota Graduate Labor Union will begin to form a bargaining committee over the summer.

For more information: umnglu.org

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