Grad students against unionization

by Graduate Students Against GSWU

The recent opinion article by Rep. Tom Rukavina demonstrates a gross misunderstanding of the issues surrounding the unionization of graduate assistants at the University of Minnesota. Several key points are misrepresented. As graduate assistants, we and opponents of the unionization effort feel compelled to offer a rebuttal.

First of all, the greatest measure of respect that any employer can show is to honor the contract between employer and employee. As graduate assistants, we have voluntarily signed individual contracts pertaining to our unique programs. These contracts and the responsibilities therein vary widely between programs and are freely available for review prior to signing. If that contract is broken by employer or employee, there exist numerous methods of dialogue and remediation within the respective departments and colleges.

Until these avenues of discourse have been proven ineffective in communicating with the University, forming a union that all graduate students will be forced to join is unreasonable and concerning to many graduate students — especially those who have been treated well by the University.

Secondly, Rukavina is misinformed if he believes that “cutting edge research is only possible though the … labor of these graduate assistants”. We challenge him to ask post-doctoral research associates working on campus if this is the case. Post-doctoral researchers are generally more experienced and productive when using publications as a metric.

By making graduate students more expensive through unionization, a shift toward post-doctoral associates will be further incentivized, reducing the number of open positions for graduate assistants and draining the future pool of highly trained individuals.

Thirdly, for workers whose position may be more subject to the will of the employer, such as auto workers, a union may be needed to protect their livelihood and to guarantee fair compensation for their labor. Graduate students, as skilled workers who are not easily replaced, receive free or greatly reduced tuition and nationally leading health care, plus a livable stipend. Only 10 percent of Americans more than 25 years of age attain a graduate degree, allowing them to earn an average of almost $20,000 more annually than someone with a Bachelor’s degree and $36,000 more than a high school graduate, according to the 2010 U.S. Census.

Lastly, we find little compelling evidence that such a massive enterprise as the United Auto Workers could represent the diverse interests of the graduate assistants better than the existing system or individual departmental collectives. As diverse as we are within and amongst different colleges at the University, it would seem that forming a single union with a single collective bargaining unit would not create democracy, but rather stifle it. Departments that are already well-compensated will not be able to bargain for improved compensation in the future if the contract we are forced to sign now demonstrates that our “value” is less.

Rukavina makes much of the idea of democracy in the workplace. As such, a vote among the graduate assistants is needed without interference or coercion by union representatives. A campaign of annoyance was undertaken by union representatives until enough graduate assistants signed authorization cards, skewing the true support of unionization. Some of the authors of this opinion were direct recipients of this campaign.

Hence, we encourage all graduate students to become informed on this issue, demand an opportunity to vote and counter to Rukavina’s and Graduate Student Workers United-UAW opinions. We are confident that an informed graduate student population will choose not to unionize when this issue comes to a vote.


Mandy Stahre, Epidemiology

Jeff Hall, Microbiology, Immunology, and Cancer Biology

Caleb Levar, MICaB

Kristin Anderson, MICaB

Ryan Flynn, MICaB

Nick Dillion, MICaB

Celeste Falcon, Applied Plant Sciences