Thousands of graduate workers at Duke University and non-tenure-track faculty at the University of Hartford (Conn.) filed with the National Labor Relations Board (NLRB) to form their unions. This is the first SEIU Graduate Worker Forward filing in the nation and first SEIU Local 1973/Faculty Forward filing in Connecticut.
Around the country, the momentum to form unions at universities is building a groundswell that can’t, and won’t, be ignored. Graduate assistants at American University, the University of Southern California, Loyola University-Chicago, the University of Rochester, Northwestern, Vanderbilt, and Washington University of St. Louis have declared they’re going to follow the path of Duke graduate assistants and join more than 13,000 faculty who have united in SEIU in the past three years.
“As a graduate student body, we educate students, and we help manage grants that support our departments. Duke isn’t alone in this union effort–we’re joining our peers at universities across the country,” said Aaron Colston, a doctoral student in history at Duke. “This is really about recognition of the role graduate students play in the daily work of the university. And it’s only fair, I think, that the process of addressing issues such as healthcare and sexual harassment–which are especially difficult issues in any workplace–should have the voice of the people affected by them. So we’re ready to vote yes for a union, because it’s really about making Duke stronger for all of us.”
Contingent faculty at Duke voted overwhelmingly in March to form a union with SEIU with the strong support of graduate students and the broader Duke and Durham community. Students, faculty and elected officials have again publicly voiced their support for a growing union movement in higher education by standing with Duke graduate student employees. Nearly 100 faculty members voiced their support for graduate student employees in a letter to the administration, which was also featured as a full-page advertisement in the student newspaper. Undergraduate students also showed support for their teachers, colleagues and mentors with a letter urging the administration to remain neutral and allow graduate students to form their union. Durham City Councilwoman Jillian Johnson also demonstrated support for union protections for graduate student employees.
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