Grad assistants file petition to form union, ask Kaler to file joint petition

Jill Jensen

University of Minnesota graduate assistants came one step closer to forming a union Tuesday morning.

The GSWU/UAW organizers hand delivered a letter to President Eric Kaler to sign a joint petition for graduate assistants to form a union. They also filed at the Minnesota Bureau of Mediation Services for a union election “so all our bases are covered,” said spokesman Scott Thaller.

Thaller said Kaler told the graduate assistants who came with to deliver the letter that “he’d be in touch.”

A joint petition requires half of graduate student assistants to sign union authorization cards before proceeding to bargaining, while only 30 percent of students are needed to file for a union election. An election would require the majority of only those who vote to pass the measure.

Thaller, a physics graduate assistant at the University, said they already have more than half of graduate student assistants signed up.

He said a union is necessary to negotiate the terms and conditions for the contracts of about 4,500 graduate assistants at the University.

Multiple attempts in the past to form a union for graduate assistants have failed, but this time the work is backed by the United Auto Workers labor union.

Thaller said the graduate student workers are much more organized than years past.

“Graduate students are … getting out there and speaking with their colleagues about the importance of having a union,” Thaller said.

State Rep. Michael Nelson, DFL-Brooklyn Park, also sent a letter to Kaler, urging him to file a joint petition with graduate assistants to show the University “honors the significant contribution of graduate assistant employees.”