Two-year unionization battle to end on Monday

Kelly Hildebrandt

On Monday, more than two years of work will come to an end for the Graduate Student Organizing Congress as the union polls are closed and the ballots are counted.
While many are anxious, neither GradSOC nor Graduate Students Against Unionization have many regrets.
If a union is voted in, graduate assistants would be represented by GradSOC and its state affiliate, Education Minnesota. For a union to be implemented, 50 percent plus one of the ballots must vote in favor a union.
Thus far, 2,524 of the roughly 4,000 eligible voters have sent in their votes, said Josh Tilsen, a mediator at the Bureau of Mediation Services. In the last graduate assistant union election at the University, which took place in 1990, 2,695 out of about 4,800 eligible students voted.
“That’s lower than I would expect,” said John Erickson, director of employee relations. In past union elections at the University, 70 percent of eligible voters have been drawn to the polls.
Melinda Jackson, a GradSOC representative, said she expects that many have waited until the last minute to vote.
While the ballots have been out, GradSOC has continued to campaign and build its platform.
“I would say there have been some problems with the campaign,” Erickson said, referring to the Bureau of Mediation Services’ decision to allow campaigning while the ballots are out, although he isn’t sure that it will impact the election’s outcome.
GradSOC is preparing for if graduate assistants vote for union representation.
“We have to really hit the ground running,” Jackson said, explaining that if a union is elected, GradSOC will schedule a mass membership meeting for the end of May.
Since Graduate Students Against Unionization joined the ranks in late February, dialogue has been constant between the two organizations.
Paul Enever, a GSAU member, said he thought both organizations conducted informative debates for graduate assistants.
“In general, we can be proud of that,” Enever said, adding that if he could do it again, GSAU would have gotten involved earlier.
Jackson said the development of the anti-union organization changed the campaign to a more confrontational tone.
“A student who wanted to could easily be informed if they chose,” Erickson said about this year’s campaign.
This year’s election is the third attempt to unionize graduate assistants. The first, which occurred in 1974, lost by an almost 2-to-1 margin. Although there was a high voter turnout — 75 percent — only 409 graduate assistants voted for a union; 827 voted against it.
While graduate assistants were also striving to win better compensation and health benefits in the first union election, they were also pulling for more equality with faculty and a stronger voice in teaching decisions. Also, research assistants were struggling to receive credit for projects they worked on at the University.
Again in 1990, graduate assistants levied for another union election, which lost 885 to 1,810. The issues involved in this election were much the same as today.
Better health care and compensation were at the forefront of the debate. At that time, graduate assistant health care was implemented for the first time.
Today, many graduate assistants are looking for more continuity in their health care, which is currently renegotiated every two years.
But Jackson said the two previous elections aren’t indicative of how this election will end.
“People are a lot more educated about what a graduate student union can do,” she said, adding that the tone of this campaign has been different.
This election has been extremely broad-based, said Tamara Joseph, a GradSOC organizer.
When the signature cards were filed in February, the organization had more than 50 percent support in all the areas of the University, including the science and engineering departments. Joseph said this level of support has characterized the election.