Graduate student conference votes to support strike

by Kelly Hildebrandt

During its annual conference this weekend, the National Association of Graduate-Professional Students decided to support the possibility of a strike at the University of California for union recognition.
About 225 graduate student groups gathered in Braintree, Mass., this weekend to discuss important graduate school-related issues including unionization.
At the University, the Graduate Students Organizing Congress is holding a card signing drive to obtain a union election. They need signatures from 35 percent of the graduate assistants — all graduate students holding research and teaching assistantships.
Five University graduate students attended the conference representing the Council of Graduate Students and the Graduate and Professional Student Assembly. Both of the organizations have remained neutral with regards to unionization.
“I think that it is a very promising development,” said Andrew Seligsohn, a member of the Graduate Students Organizing Congress steering committee.
Seligsohn, who attended the conference representing GradSOC, said the group will try to inform graduate students about the national association’s decision and hope it will help show that there is no conflict between union organizations and graduate and professional organizations.
Although the national association hasn’t sided on the issue of unionization, their platform calls for representation by any organization graduate students choose.
“I’m not surprised,” said former GAPSA president J.P. Maier about the decision. Maier, who attended the conference, added that the National Association of Graduate-Professional Students is making an effort to address important issues.
As of now, 18 university campuses have bargaining units for graduate assistants. The University of California system is striving for representation, which would increase the number to 26.
At the University, the drive for a union is nearing the end. GradSOC has signatures from 40 percent of the graduate assistants — 5 percent more than they need for an election — and will probably submit the signatures to the State of Minnesota Bureau of Mediation Services by January, said Britt Abel, a member of the steering committee.
The bureau will then check the signatures to ensure eligibility and determine if there is enough support for an election. To win an election, GradSOC needs 50 percent of the vote plus one. If a union is created, the University and union representatives would then negotiate contract.
In the event that a contract can’t be negotiated a graduate assistant bargaining unit could legally strike, said Pete Obermeyer, a Bureau of Mediation Services mediator. A strike can only occur after a 45-day mediation period.