Grad student assistants file for union election, ask for Kaler’s support

The University alleges that organizers ‘harassed’ other grad assistants

University of Minnesota graduate assistants moved forward in their two-pronged approach to form a union Tuesday morning despite claims that they are harassing their peers for support.

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

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

Kathy Brown, vice president of the Office of Human Resources, said it was unlikely the University would file for joint petition.

“We think that an election is the best way to go because it allows for all graduate students to have the opportunity to place their vote,” Brown said.

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 in 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.”

Graduate student assistant organizers allegedly ‘harassed’ peers

The University is also alleging that graduate student assistants are harassing other students in attempt to garner support for their campaign.

In a letter to the GSWU/UAW’s legal counsel Oct. 17, Shelley Carthen Watson, associate general counsel at the University, said organizers “may not solicit in University workplaces during work time.”

Brown said that they did not keep track of the number of complaints but that there “were enough complaints for it to be considered a concern.”

In a follow-up letter Dec. 7, Watson wrote that she continued to receive complaints from graduate assistants of “harassment” from GSWU/UAW organizers, even when they are asked to leave.

Thaller said it’s essential that graduate student assistants be able to talk to their peers about forming a union, but they don’t ignore requests to stop.

“If asked to leave, we leave,” Thaller said.

He said this makes it appear as though the University is trying to undermine the effort of graduate assistants to unionize.

GSWU/UAW’s legal counsel Richard Kaspari wrote a letter in reply, saying that these miscommunications do not warrant the “intervention” of the general counsel’s office.

He said “employers who attempt to chill employees’ pro-union speech on such a basis [of harassment] violate the law.”