U graduate student employees launch local union

Approximately 30 people were expected, but more than 200 showed up to the event.

by Bryce Haugen

A group of University graduate student employees started a union Thursday night.

More than 200 student organizers met in the University Technology Center for the official kickoff of their union, named Graduate Teaching and Research Assistant Coalition U.E. Local 1108. They ratified their platform, signed union membership cards and held a training session before jamming to live music.

Today, the trained organizers will scatter throughout campus and begin asking 4,300 graduate student employees to join their effort. They will need the student employees’ help if they want to get recognized by the University, union members said.

If the union gets that recognition, the University will be required to bargain with it.

The event was more successful than expected, members said.

“This thing exploded,” said Kris Houlton, organizing committee member and teaching assistant in the Department of Women’s Studies.

Organizers had planned for approximately 30 people, but word spread quickly, she said.

The event began with pep talks from local union leaders and student employees.

“We need your help – you need your help – to make this work,” said Leni Marshall, an English doctoral candidate and emcee.

Patti Dion, University director of Employee Relations, said the University fully understands the workers have a right to unionize under federal labor laws.

“We take these kinds of actions seriously, and we want to have an informed employee population as they decide whether they want a union to represent them or not,” she said.

Later in the evening, student employees presented the union’s platform, which was summarized on tagboard signs for the lively crowd. They loudly and unanimously ratified the platform, which calls for wage increases and “quality, affordable health care.”

Then, in symbolic solidarity, they simultaneously signed their membership cards.

“The grad employees are ready for the union,” union organizer Leanna Noble said. “They want it, and they’re showing it tonight.”

At the event, union employees from the University of Iowa credited the union’s parent organization with increasing wages and obtaining other benefits at their university. They said the same thing will now happen at the University of Minnesota.

But for that to happen, the University of Minnesota and the state Bureau of Mediation Services will need to recognize the union as a legal union.

A bureau mediator, Jim Jarvinen, said recognition could be achieved through a successful election. The union must present the bureau with signed membership cards from 30 percent of its eligible members for that to occur.

Ryan Murphy, a fellow in American Studies and organizing committee member, said the union would gather more than that number.

An election will most likely occur this winter, Houlton said. All graduate student employees would be eligible to vote.

If they get an election and win it, the union’s members will negotiate its first contract with the University soon afterward. They would also elect their leadership and negotiating team at that time.