GradTRAC meeting stirs disagreements

Matt Graham

With elections for a graduate employees’ union slated for this week, some students said they are upset with what they call “undemocratic” actions by the union.

A group of students protested a Graduate Teaching and Research Assistants Coalition United Electrical Local 1105 meeting Thursday.

The 15 students gathered outside the Humphrey Institute of Public Affairs to voice their disapproval of what was originally billed as a planning meeting but later turned out to be “just a social,” one graduate employee said.

Chemical engineering research assistant Greg Sitton said that he and other graduate employees were upset when they first heard of the organizing meeting planned for Thursday.

He said they felt it was unfair only GradTRAC members would be allowed to attend, even though the decisions made would affect all graduate employees.

“One of (GradTRAC’s) claims all along is that this is going to be a democracy,” Sitton said. “Their actions speak louder than their words.”

But Ryan Murphy, an American studies fellow and GradTRAC organizer, said there is a simpler reason why the meeting was altered.

“Originally, our goal was to look at suggestions for how the negotiating committee should operate,” he said. “But we found that it would not be possible to have that big of a business meeting.”

Murphy said it was decided GradTRAC members needed to focus on “get out the vote” work leading up to this week’s voting. Organizers decided to change the meeting to a more casual gathering to help members relax.

But Ken Williams, a chemical engineering research assistant and Truth About Unionization founder, said the meeting changed because his group complained about it being closed.

He emphasized that GradTRAC will not hold any negotiations until after the election.

Paul Dauenhauer, a chemical engineering research assistant and Truth About Unionization member, said that he joined GradTRAC on Thursday to attend that night’s organizing meeting.

“People didn’t even know if they were going to have a union, and they were already going to be deciding on the negotiating committee,” he said.

But when he got there, Dauenhauer said, the purpose of the meeting changed.

Sitton said he was also upset six of eight members of GradTRAC’s organizing committee are not teaching or research assistants and, therefore, will not be eligible to vote in the election this week. He said they have too much say in a group they can’t vote on.

But Murphy said there are “almost 100” members of the organizing committee and that the few members who aren’t research or teaching assistants are graduate students who have had such positions in the past and will again in the future.

Some Truth About Unionization members have suggested GradTRAC is purposely shutting Institute of Technology and chemical engineering graduate employees out of the GradTRAC decision-making process.

“I think they know (the union) isn’t beneficial to the Institute of Technology,” Dauenhauer said. “Nobody I’ve talked to (from IT) is in favor of this.”

But Murphy said GradTRAC has much support in the Institute of Technology.

“That’s the largest population of graduate employees, so why would we not want them?” Murphy said.

Though Murphy did not divulge the total membership of GradTRAC, he said, “One could probably say there are 100 GradTRAC members for every member of (Truth About Unionization).

“When I looked last week, I saw we have more members in IT and chemical engineering than (Truth About Unionization).”

For legal reasons, Murphy said, he could not say how many GradTRAC members are from the Institute of Technology or the chemical engineering department specifically.