GradTRAC organizers plan to continue, despite losing

Some organizers plan to meet this weekend to discuss how to help graduate students.

Matt Graham

Despite losing last week’s vote to unionize, graduate employee union organizers plan to keep pushing for reforms at the University.

Participating in the vote were 3,075 graduate employees who turned down the Graduate Teaching and Research Assistants Coalition United Electrical Local 1105 by a vote of 1,296-1,779, according to the Minnesota Bureau of Mediation Services Web site.

Some GradTRAC members will be meeting this weekend to discuss ways to improve graduate employee working conditions, said Ryan Murphy, a union organizer and American studies fellow.

“There are a lot of other ways (besides a union) that activists create social change,” Murphy said, citing the actions of civil rights workers in the 1960s and 1970s.

Britt Johnson, Council of Graduate Students president and a philosophy graduate instructor, said some of GradTRAC’s goals regarding health care and pay can be worked on by the council.

But Johnson, who is also a GradTRAC member, said the council cannot bargain with the University like a union would have been able to.

“We can make our opinion known Ö (but) in the end, we don’t have a lot of control,” she said.

Murphy said the Graduate and Professional Student Assembly can’t do what a union could.

“All that stuff we said about the union being different from GAPSA and (the council), we weren’t just blowing smoke,” he said.

Ken Williams, a chemical engineering research assistant, founded Truth About Unionization as an opposition group to GradTRAC, but he said he would be willing to work with the union’s members.

“Our goal all along was to have an open, interdepartmental dialogue that everyone could attend,” he said.

Murphy said he is open to discussion but has doubts.

“Ken Williams and the (Truth About Unionization) people have never talked about conditions in the workplace” but were only concerned with defeating GradTRAC, Murphy said.

Although there are no immediate plans to push for another union, Murphy said, the high turnover of graduate student employees means there could be greater support for a union in the next several years.