University of Minnesota graduate students need and want a union

The Graduate Student Workers United/United Auto Workers has signed up a majority of the more than 4,500 graduate assistants at the University of Minnesota.

The organizers have asked the University to join them in going to the state and requesting the union be certified on a basis of this majority. They have asked President Eric Kaler to sign a joint petition to certify the union.

Many labor historians accept majority certification of a union as the most effective and democratic way for employees to form unions.

This is because employers frequently use union elections as an opportunity to aggressively campaign against the union.

It is also recognized by labor historians that such campaigning favors the employer because the employer controls the workplace in which the campaigning takes place. This is even more true of this particular employer, the University.

Currently, the University holds all the power in relation to graduate assistant employment.

The University decides what one gets as an employee, when you get it and how you get it.

This applies to salary, benefits, rights, protections and working conditions.

Unfortunately, as evident in testimony from graduate assistants who were around during the last union drive, the University has a history of fighting graduate assistant unionization.

Seth Berrier, a doctoral candidate and research assistant in computer science and engineering explained, âÄúPolitically, the University was well prepared to wage war against grad student unionization. They did so with a calculated campaign of misinformation that would have done any GOP candidate proud. Their negatively charged prose came primarily in the form of direct emails from the Department of Human Resources. They promised doom and destruction in a world of grad student solidarity. It was clear that they were frightened by the strength we would possess.âÄù
From a letter sent by the current Senate Democratic-Farmer-Labor Leader Sen. Thomas Bakk to President Eric Kaler, it appears that practices havenâÄôt changed.

Bakk wrote, âÄúIt has come to my attention that you have posted a document on your website about the graduate assistant union drive, entitled, âÄòFrequently Asked Questions About Unionization.âÄô In this document you claim that a union cannot improve health care, rate of pay, job security and workload. As you know, by law these are mandatory topics of bargaining. Your characterization of the union as being unable to âÄòimproveâÄô these terms and conditions of employment misrepresents the important gains in wages, benefits, rights and protections that all employees may achieve through collective bargaining.âÄù

Perhaps itâÄôs time to change course. I urge the University to respect the choice that a majority of all graduate assistants have made and agree to recognize their majority support.

In doing so, the University administration will turn over a new leaf in its institutional history and embark upon a productive, cooperative bargaining relationship with the graduate assistants that they rely upon so heavily to fulfill its research and teaching missions.