Graduate student workers vote down GSWU/UAW

About 68 percent of the 4,400 eligible graduate student workers cast votes in last week’s election.
Moderators sort ballots from last week’s graduate student worker unionization vote Monday morning at the Minnesota Bureau of Mediation Services. Sixty-two percent of graduate students who cast ballots voted against unionization.
March 27, 2012

Graduate student workers at the University of Minnesota voted against forming a union, according to results released Monday by the Bureau of Mediation Services.

About 62 percent of voters decided against forming the union. About 68 percent of the 4,400 eligible graduate student workers cast votes during last week’s election.

A handful of people watched mediators tally votes Monday morning and were visibly upset when the results were announced. Tears filled the eyes of several attendees, and some hugged, shook hands and quickly left.

Scott Thaller, a spokesman for the Graduate Student Workers United/United Auto Workers Union, said the results were surprising and disappointing.

“We were pretty confident going into the election and during the election that we’d come out on top,” Thaller said.

Graduate student workers have been organizing on campus for the past two years. They collected signatures from more than 30 percent of graduate workers in order to put the union to a vote.

When University graduate student employees tried to form a union in 2004, they partnered with the United Electrical, Radio and Machine Workers of America.

In that election, 70 percent of eligible graduate student employees voted with 60 percent voting against a union, Patti Dion, director of employee relations and compensation at the University, previously told the Minnesota Daily.

David Larson, an employment law professor at Hamline University, said while he recognizes some of the merits of having a union, he isn’t necessarily surprised by the results.

“There seemed to be a theme that opponents thought the union wouldn’t be efficiently democratic and really represent what [graduate student workers] felt were their individual interests,” Larson said. “And that’s been an ongoing issue for unions.”

He added that the issue was also “framed very favorably for the University” because University graduate student workers’ wages were compared to others at Big Ten universities. Dion previously told the Daily that University graduate employee salaries are $1,000 higher than the average Big Ten graduate employee salary.

They make about $13,300 a semester at the University.

Larson said union supporters could have argued that graduate student workers should be compared to faculty because they do very similar work for much less pay.

He added that the results are representative of declining union membership nationwide and doubted if a graduate employee union at the University would ever be successful.

“Unless something notable changes, I don’t think it’s very likely,” Larson said.

Andrew Wagner, a graduate student worker who opposed the union, said the union lost a lot of supporters because they tried to make the relationship with the University unnecessarily competitive.

“For the vast majority of us, we don’t see the University as an adversary, we see them as a partner in our education and our research,” Wagner said. “They depend on us, and we depend on them.”

Wagner added that the union also lost supporters because they classified anyone who questioned them as “right-wing ideologues.” 

“The union alienated a lot of people who might otherwise have supported them simply by attacking anyone who chose to question their means,” Wagner said.Thaller said he was happy with the campaign they ran. He added that despite the results, the campaign still benefited graduate student workers.

“It wasn’t successful, but I think it got a lot of people engaged and thinking more carefully and critically about issues that affect graduate students and our working conditions,” Thaller said.

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