Rival union groups agree to inform

by Kelly Hildebrandt

The two opposing sides of the graduate assistant union debate agreed on only one thing Wednesday: Graduate assistants must be informed when voting for a union in May.
About 100 students assembled yesterday afternoon on the St. Paul campus for a heated debate between the two opposing sides.
The Graduate Student Organizing Congress faced off with Graduate Students Against Unionization in an effort to inform students about the pertinent issues. Cheryl Jorgensen, president of the Graduate and Professional Student Assembly, mediated the debate.
“The goal is to give students an opportunity to have a dialogue about unionization,” Jorgensen said, adding her concern that students make an informed decision.
GAPSA and the Council of Graduate Students sponsored the debate. Neither group has taken sides on the issue of a graduate assistant union, the vote for which will take place in May.
The state Bureau of Mediation Service announced yesterday that the election will be in mail ballot form. They will be sent out on April 16th and must be returned no later than May 10th.
Graduate assistants eligible to vote are those who are employed by the University; mainly teaching and research assistants. For a union election to be established, 50 percent plus one of all the graduate assistants that turn in a ballot need to vote in favor of a union.
While GradSOC officials say a graduate assistant union will create a constructive working relationship between graduate workers and the University administration, GSAU officials maintain a union will only add another layer of bureaucracy.
COGS already has an authoritative voice for graduate students with University administration and has helped to implement many improvements for graduate assistants, including the newly-revamped health care plan, said GSAU member Amy Rocklin. In addition, COGS only costs $4 each quarter, opposed to the roughly $150 per year graduate assistants will pay in union fees if a bargaining unit is established, she added.
One reason GSAU officials don’t want a union is because once one is created there is no turning back.
But Andrew Seligsohn, a member of GradSOC, said there are procedures available for graduate assistants to change union affiliation or to terminate a union completely.
“It doesn’t happen often, but it does happen,” Seligsohn said.
The process of rescinding a union is the same as establishing one. Thirty percent of eligible graduate assistants would need to sign cards stating they no longer want a union and then an election would be held.
Additionally, Rocklin said a GradSOC union wouldn’t effectively represent both teaching and research assistants at the University.
“Grant agencies only care about the bottom line,” Rocklin said. “What’s it going to cost?
“If we make research assistants more expensive at the University of Minnesota, we’re going to place research here out of the market.”
In response to this argument, Seligsohn said that research assistants won’t be under-represented at the University because they outnumber teaching assistants at the University.
In addition, he added that under state law, if a graduate assistant union is established, both research and teaching assistants must be included.
“They are able to achieve things,” Seligsohn said about graduate assistant unions, adding that without them graduate assistants can’t negotiate a binding contract with the University that could help to increase wages and improve health care.
But Rocklin countered that GradSOC can’t guarantee any improvements will be made.
“We will have to bargain for everything we want,” Rocklin said, adding that graduate assistants might loose something important they currently have.
Overall, not everyone was happy with the debate’s outcome.
“GSAU spent a lot of time ridiculing rather than addressing the issues,” said Melinda Jackson, a member of GradSOC, although she thought the debate went well.
“I would like to see more involvement from people who have not made their decisions,” said Paul Enever, one of the speakers for GSAU. He said many of the students attending the debates thus far have attended with their minds already made up.
Brigitte Frohnert, a research assistant against forming a union, said many people attended to support the side they were in favor of, and the debate pointed out how much misinformation is being circulated.
“It’s all statistics,” she said. “Statistics can be twisted.”