Graduate union voted down for third time

by Kelly Hildebrandt

For the third time in 30 years, University graduate assistants opted for no union representation.
In the mail-in election that ended Monday, 1,248 graduate assistants voted for representation by the Graduate Student Organizing Congress and 1,713 voted against it.
To win, 50 percent plus one of the votes would have needed to be in favor of union representation.
The union election was the culmination of a two-year campaign by GradSOC. Some common concerns were graduate assistant wages and health care. The main goal of the organization was to give graduate assistants a voice in decisions involving their assistantships.
“I think it’s unfortunate that graduate assistants will not have GradSOC speaking on behalf of (them),” said David Moracco, a coordinator with Education Minnesota, GradSOC’s state affiliate.
George Green, associate dean of the Graduate School, said the administration plans to continue working with graduate assistants to make improvements.
Although the Graduate School administration didn’t take a stance on the issue of unionization, Green said he was happy that there was a large voter turnout.
GradSOC lost by about 500 votes; 3,000 of the eligible 4,000 graduate assistants voted.
This is a much closer race than the two previous elections, which lost by a two-to-one margin in both 1974 and 1990.
Melinda Jackson, a GradSOC member, said the union effort has accomplished some important things, including a stronger community with graduate students and better health care and wages.
“People should keep in mind that because we do not have a legally binding contract, the gains we have made are not guaranteed,” Jackson said.
Tracey Delaney, a teaching assistant in astronomy, said she wasn’t surprised at the outcome.
“It’s all right without a union,” Delaney said, explaining that a lot of graduate assistants probably didn’t find fault with the benefits they currently have.
“I’m satisfied that everybody had a chance to vote,” said John Glatzmaier, a research assistant in the Department of Civil Engineering. Although Glatzmaier wasn’t upset that a union was voted down, he said he hopes the administration will take the issues that were raised into account.
But some expected a higher voter turnout. Erik Gronberg, a teaching assistant in the Department of Spanish and Portuguese, said the high turnover rate of graduate assistants could have kept some students from voting.
“Why spend 33 cents for a stamp if you’re not going to be here next year anyway?” Gronberg asked.
Although there will be no official union representation for graduate assistants, the Council of Graduate Students and the Graduate and Professional Student Assembly will continue to work on behalf of graduate students.
“I think they’re more aware now of some of the concerns graduate assistants have,” Jackson said. “I sincerely hope they will take a much more active approach on these issues.”
Jennifer Roberts, a teaching assistant in English, said although she thinks COGS does a good job addressing graduate assistants’ issues, the administration doesn’t have to work with COGS.
Green said he hopes students from both sides of the union debate will get involved with these organizations in an effort to make improvements.
For an election to be held, GradSOC ran a six-month drive to show there was enough support for a union election. During this signature drive, 2,500 graduate assistants signed cards stating they wanted an election.
GradSOC members aren’t planning on driving for another union in the near future and are unsure of what the organization’s role will be.