University of Chicago graduate workers win historic union vote

By Workers World Chicago bureau posted on October 23, 2017

In a decisive and historic victory in the struggle for graduate workers at private universities across the United States, the graduate workers at the University of Chicago voted overwhelmingly on Oct. 17-18 to form a union. Cast were 1,103 yes ballots and 479 opposed.

In August 2016, the National Labor Relations Board overturned its 2004 ruling that graduate students at private universities are not statutory employees. In the previous decision, the petition of graduate workers at Brown University to affiliate with the United Auto Workers was rejected, thanks in large part to union-busting efforts of Brown’s then-provost and current UChicago President Robert Zimmer.

Due to their victory, UChicago graduate employees will be represented by Graduate Students United, which is affiliated with the American Federation of Teachers and the American Association of University Professors. Like their colleagues at New York University and Yale, the GSU had developed a longterm organizing presence on campus, even when the hope for official recognition as a union was dim.

GSU organizing for past decade

GSU was founded in 2007 after the university implemented a funding initiative that promised better financial support and working conditions to incoming students, without making any changes to that of existing students. Through extensive research, GSU organizers found that graduate student labor made up a third of teaching on campus — a substantially higher figure than the university boasted in its undergraduate recruitment literature.

GSU soon developed a democratic organizing structure and was a driving force in campus labor struggles, fighting for better financial support and wages, resources for graduate student parents and reductions in fees. In the absence of GSU’s legal union recognition, the university administration itself has taken credit for many of these concessions that would have been impossible without grassroots organizing.

Solidarity work has also been an important part of GSU’s campus presence, with members serving as key organizers in struggles against the university’s private police force as well as in the successful fight to reopen the UChicago Hospital’s Level 1 adult trauma center to serve the South Side of Chicago.

The UChicago administration deployed a largely legal strategy in their anti-union efforts. UChicago’s legal counsel on Sept. 22 filed for both a stay of the election, in an attempt to prevent graduate workers from voting together, and a review of the election order. The review sought to overturn the regional labor director’s decision for the election to proceed, by appealing to the NLRB where two Trump appointees have just been confirmed. The stay was not granted, and the review has yet to be heard.

UChicago administration and President Zimmer have made it clear that they will continue this legal route in an attempt to delegitimize and negate the election results. Provost Daniel Diermeier announced this plan in an email to graduate workers and faculty on Oct. 19. UChicago will join several other universities calling on the NLRB to reverse the August 2016 decision. The administration has further emphasized its legal strategy by hiring Proskauer Rose, the same legal team that fought graduate worker unionization at Cornell, Duke and Columbia universities.

Battling anti-union rhetoric

In a further attempt to undermine graduate workers, the administration has framed anti-union messaging as neutral intellectual debate. Their depiction of the union as a third-party entity, interested only in collecting dues at the expense of academic integrity, is a common thread in anti-union rhetoric throughout the U.S.

The administration has also leaned on faculty, many of whom are insecure in their own employment, to move graduate workers away from voting “yes” through one-on-one lobbying and department-wide emails. Representatives of the university have spoken at length in different forums about the unique and indispensable relationships between graduate workers and their faculty mentors. They depict a union as an interfering presence that would fundamentally change those relationships, while using faculty as their mouthpiece for this messaging.

The graduate workers’ win at UChicago is likely to have an invigorating effect on similar campaigns across the country. While the win is significant, so too will be the struggle to bring the administration to the bargaining table. No graduate workers on a private campus have bargained for or ratified their first contract yet, even though labor law requires administrations to come to the table in good faith. UChicago graduate workers have a fight ahead of them, but they also have considerable momentum from their victory.

(Photo: Graduate Student Union, UChicago)

University of Chicago graduate students as they began their victorious vote, Oct. 17, 2017

Support Columbia Students Under Attack By The Campus Administration

Flyer for Monday, Oct. 23 2017 Colombia University NYC rally (1)

Join us in support of students facing disciplinary action and demand that Columbia drop its investigation into the alleged “disruption” of the CU College Republican’s Tommy Robinson event. Columbia has a history of abusing its institutional power by intimidating students, workers, and the Harlem community. We refuse to let this be another opportunity for them to do so behind closed doors.

CALL SUZANNE GOLDBERG @ the Office of University Life: 212-854-0411
Join us in support of students facing disciplinary action and demand
that Columbia drop its investigation into the alleged “disruption” of the
CU College Republican’s Tommy Robinson event. Columbia has a
history of abusing its institutional power by intimidating students,
workers, and the Harlem community.
We refuse to let this be another opportunity for them to do so
behind closed doors.
“I am calling to demand that Columbia drop its investigation into
students who protested a violent Islamophobe on Oct. 10. The students
were exercising free speech. I am concerned that the University is
punishing predominantly black and brown students for speaking up
against people who do not think their lives matter.”

Join SOA Watch For 2nd Border Encuentro!

Weekend Schedule of Events

Friday, November 10
7:00am    Encuentro Registration – YWCA, 525 N Bonita Ave.
8:00am    Welcome & Know Your Rights – YWCA, 525 N Bonita Ave.
9:20am    Forums & Workshops – YWCA, 525 N Bonita Ave.
1:30pm    Rally at Federal Courthouse – 405 W Congress St. 
3:45pm    Caravan to Eloy Detention Center – 405 W Congress St. 
5:00pm    Vigil at Eloy Detention Center – 1705 E Hanna Road
8:00pm    Concert in Tucson at Solar Culture – 31 E Toole Ave.

Saturday, November 11
7:00am    Encuentro Registration – Hotel Americana , 639 N Grand Ave (Arizona) / Escuela Primaria Abelardo L. Rodríguez, Fenochio 23 (Sonora)
8:00am    Gathering in ambos Nogales & Know Your Rights – 639 N Grand Ave (Arizona) / Plaza Miguel Hidalgo (Sonora)
9:00am    Bi-national Veteran-led March to the U.S./Mexico Border Wall
10:00am  Rally at the U.S./Mexico Border Wall
12:30pm  Forums & Workshops
5:30pm    Social Gathering at Hotel Americana – Hotel Americana , 639 N Grand Ave (Arizona) 
8:00pm    Concert at the U.S./Mexico Border Wall

Sunday, November 12*
9:30am     Welcome & Blessing
10:00am   Speakers & Musicians
11:10am   Litany & Presentes
12:40pm   Puppetistas!
1:40pm     Closing

* Entire program on Sunday will be at the U.S./Mexico Border Wall

Monday, November 13
SOA Watch Post-Encuentro Mailing Party!
○ 10:00am at the Global Justice Center (225 E 26th St)

Peace Vigil and Celebration of Life of Fr. Jerry Zawada, OFM
○ 8:00-8:45am, Peace Vigil Outside David Monthan Air Force Base (Craycroft Rd entrance)
○ 9:15am, Celebration of Life at St. Mark’s Presbyterian Church (3809 E 3rd St, Tucson)
○ For more information: 520-323-8697 /
○ For updates, please visit
○ You are invited to bring a photo or other small memento for an altar to remember and honor Jerry

Jerry Zawada, Presente!