Chicago Graduate Student Employees Win Union Vote

By Kelly Hand

Graduate student employees at the University of Chicago won an important victory in October. Having voted overwhelmingly in favor of union recognition, they will be represented by Graduate Students United (GSU), a bargain­ing unit affiliated with the AAUP, the American Federation of Teach­ers, and the Illinois Federation of Teachers.

GSU formed in 2007 to improve working conditions on campus and has fought for health care, child care, and fair compensa­tion. The National Labor Relations Board ruled in 2016 that gradu­ate student assistants working at private colleges and universities are statutory employees covered by the National Labor Relations Act, overruling a 2004 decision that graduate assistants were not employees and did not have the right to unionize.

AAUP president Rudy Fich­tenbaum said, “Chicago graduate workers have already set stan­dards and accomplished much for their campus by standing together. GSU’s strength and tenacity in the face of relentless challenges by the administration are an inspi­ration to colleagues across the country, colleagues who recognize their campus contributions as significant. The work they do is critical to the university’s teach­ing and research mission, and the university works because they do. We look forward to support­ing GSU every step of the way to maintain a meaningful voice on campus and quality in higher education.”

The victory sets a historic precedent for graduate student employees at private institutions. The AAUP is committed to work­ing on behalf of graduate student employees at all colleges and uni­versities and currently represents graduate employee bargaining units at Portland State University, Rutgers University, and the Univer­sity of Rhode Island (see the URI GAU chapter profile in this issue).