New U graduate student employee union recruits members

The new union is calling for increased wages and health-care benefits.

Bryce Haugen

Since the launch of a graduate student employee union two weeks ago, union organizers have spread throughout campus.

They’re going office to office, trying to convince approximately 4,300 graduate student employees to join their union, Graduate Teaching and Research Assistants Coalition United Electrical Local 1105. The graduate student union’s platform includes calls for annual wage increases and increased health-care benefits.

If more than half of the graduate student employees sign up, they will vote to decide whether the union will represent them in contract negotiations with the University. Organizers said they are confident this will occur in the spring.

“The membership drive is going very well,” said Leanna Noble, organizer for United Electric, the graduate student union’s parent organization. “A lot of grad employees are involved, and they are really building the union member by member.”

Noble said union protocol prohibits her from revealing how many members have signed up.

“We’re finding that there’s overwhelming support,” she said.

Patti Dion, University director of employee relations, said that although the University acknowledges student employees’ right to organize, it will work to ensure they make informed decisions.

“As an employer, we’d prefer to speak directly to our employees rather than through a union,” she said.

Student employees expressed a variety of views on the union.

Josh Wallaert, an English department teaching assistant, said graduate student employees need a union – now.

“I think that labor unions are the most effective way for us as workers to speak collectively,” he said.

Although he’s not eligible to vote because he is technically not a graduate student employee, former research assistant Michael Greminger said he would vote “no,” if he could.

“I don’t think this makes sense for all students,” he said.

He said that science student employees, who on average make more than those working in the humanities, might suffer under collective bargaining. That’s happened elsewhere, he said.

While working as a psychology research assistant in the early 1970s, Kit Hansen was president of a graduate student employee union during a failed union drive. Now, the English department teaching assistantsaid she will most likely join the new union.

“I don’t yet know what the issues are in this particular campaign, so it’s hard for me to have an opinion,” she said. “But I’d have a guilty conscience if I didn’t join.”

Tim Beck, a doctoral candidate in the department of classical and near Eastern studies said he’s already joined. But, he said, he still has questions.

“We’re not sure how to position ourselves – whether we’re laborers or students,” he said.

Union organizers said they would spend the pre-election months clearing up graduate student employees’ concerns.