Grad workers express concern

Matt Graham

Graduate employees voiced concerns about unionization Tuesday at a Truth About Unionization information session in Smith Hall.

The crowd of primarily Institute of Technology and chemical engineering students expressed concern they would not benefit from the union as much as graduate employees in departments that receive less funding.

Approximately 25 people attended the session.

Meeting organizers said they had hoped the event would be a debate. But no organizers from the Graduate Teaching and Research Assistants Coalition United Electrical Local 1105 attended, citing that voting had already begun.

GradTRAC organizer and American studies fellow Ryan Murphy wrote in an e-mail

that it would be “a total disservice” to GradTRAC members who had already gone to the polls if they participated in the debate.

“This (Truth About Unionization) ‘debate’ is not a forum where a diverse cross section of employees will come to talk about the issues,” he wrote.

Chemical engineering research assistant and Truth About Unionization founder Ken Williams said the University has a “bimodal distribution system” that pays students in the sciences more than students in the humanities. He said engineering and IT students would not benefit from unionization.

“Probably half the people won’t get a pay raise from this, but they’ll probably have to pay $100-150 per year in dues,” he said.

Williams said GradTRAC has been targeting international graduate employees, “but it’s not like they’re going to be able to negotiate your visa or anything like that.”

Some in attendance expressed worry they would be forced to stop their research if GradTRAC went on strike, but Truth About Unionization vice president and GradTRAC member David De Grio said the union could not do that.

“They can’t make you strike, they can’t make you walk off the job,” he said.

De Grio said he is a GradTRAC member who opposes the union but joined to assure he is represented if it is adopted as a union.

De Grio said he would be in favor of unionization if he knew he would not lose money paying union dues.

“I’m willing to work for this union if they represent me,” he said.

Union opponents also said GradTRAC’s comparisons to its sister union at the University of Iowa are not valid.

Williams said University of Minnesota graduate employees have far more benefits than University of Iowa students had before unionization.

He also said University of Iowa students do not have to pay union dues if they don’t join, but that “Minnesota is a ‘fair-share’ state.” Even nonunion graduate employees would have to pay 85 percent of the union’s dues if it were voted in, Williams said.