Some say grad employee union vote affected by science students

IT students make up the largest portion of the graduate employee body.

Matt Graham

Differences of opinion between students in the sciences and humanities might have made the difference in the graduate employee unionization vote earlier this month.

The Graduate Teaching and Research Assistants Coalition United Electrical Local 1105 lost the vote to unionize by 1,296-1,779, with 3,075 graduate employees voting.

As with the 1999 graduate employee unionization drive, some say science students with questions about the union were the deciding factor, though there are no official Institute of Technology or science voting numbers available.

IT students make up the largest portion of the University’s graduate employee body. Karen Wolterstorff, an associate in the IT administration, said there are approximately 1,400 graduate students in the college.

Daniel Kronemann, a microbiology research assistant, wrote in an e-mail that there was support for the union in his department, but many union supporters couldn’t vote because they work under fellowships.

“Support in the department didn’t necessarily translate to ‘Yes’ votes for GradTRAC,” he wrote.

But Greg Sitton, a chemical engineering research assistant, said he didn’t see much union support in the sciences.

“All the union organizers that I saw were pretty much down the board liberal arts majors,” he said.

Pay differences likely played a role in the voting outcome, Sitton said, because students in the sciences are paid more than other graduate employees.

David De Grio, a chemistry teaching assistant and Truth About Unionization vice president, wrote in an e-mail that he thinks the prevalence of research positions in the sciences, as opposed to teaching positions more common in other departments, also caused the union to lose support from science graduate employees. He said he felt a TA-only union would receive more support.

“In our department, the majority of people TA for only three of four semesters, and after that, all of our time is devoted to doing research for our Ph.D.s,” he wrote.

Many research assistants worried union membership would mean more restrictions in choosing research projects, De Grio wrote.

But Paul Dauenhauer, a chemical engineering research assistant, said he thinks there was no division between IT students and those in other departments.

“I think that, across the University, people didn’t want a union,” he said.

GradTRAC lost, because there wasn’t enough public discussion, so students didn’t know what to expect from a union, Dauenhauer said.

Elizabeth Lusczek, an astronomy and physics TA, also said she thought the division between sciences and humanities was “a myth” and attributed GradTRAC’s loss to misconceptions about the union.

Aaron Wlaschin, Chemical Engineering and Materials Science Council of Graduate Students chairman, said science students’ skepticism might have been the deciding factor.

“It was IT grad students that led the opposition, but it was our inquisitive nature Ö that motivated us to take action,” he said.