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For Clairo, “the third time’s the Charm.”
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Published July 21, 2024

UMN Graduate Labor Union begins negotiations with University

Since their start in the spring, the union has been working on proposals to present to the University for bargaining.
Image by Olivia Hines
Cal Mergendahl spoke out against new UMN leadership, proposed cuts and other topics Friday, May 12, 2023.

Since the start of the University of Minnesota Graduate Labor Union (GLU) in the spring, the union worked on creating proposals to present at the bargaining table this fall. 

GLU is a graduate worker-led organization working toward improving conditions for graduate workers across departments and colleges at the University. 

The union officially won its campaign at the end of this past spring semester by a margin of 97% voters voting yes. Since then, GLU held elections for their 25-member bargaining committee, which was trained by United Electric (UE), their parent union. 

GLU’s first bargaining session with the University was held Sept. 11 and was used as a way to introduce proposals and allow the bargaining teams to meet each other, said graduate worker and GLU organizer Anya Auerbach. 

Auerbach is not on the bargaining committee for GLU but instead an organizer who communicates between the 25 members of the committee and the over 4,000 members of the union. 

As an organizer, it is part of Auerbach’s job to see what the union members want and communicate it with the committee, who then create proposals accordingly. 

Proposals were voted on and ratified by the union members ahead of bargaining, according to Auerbach. She said one of the reasons they chose to affiliate with UE is because they take the democratic process of the union seriously. 

“Does everyone always enjoy the democratic process?” Auerbach asked. “Probably not, but does everyone invest in it and care about it and want it to go well? Absolutely, yes.” 

Auerbach said GLU’s bargaining team is working on the non-economic proposals.

“The non-economic proposals are really important because they win us things like job protections and anti-discrimination protections and include the grievance procedure,” Auerbach said.

The grievance procedure makes the contract enforceable, something Auerbach said is as needed as winning the contract itself. Along with those, she said these proposals are not about specific amounts of money, but rather they address GLU’s wants of raises and the elimination of student fees. 

According to GLU representative Yusra Murad, the union is also fighting for workplace safety and quality of life demands. 

“Our union is fighting for the working conditions that we deserve,” Murad said in an email statement. “Conditions that our boss, the University of Minnesota, has the resources to assure for all workers.” 

The relationship between the University and the union has so far been respectful and collaborative, according to Ken Horstman, vice president for the Office of Human Resources at the University. 

“Unlike traditional employees, Graduate Assistants hold a unique role as both employees and students,” Horstman said in an email statement.“The University will focus bargaining on conditions of employment and refrain from bargaining on academic matters, which remain the purview of our facility.”

During their initial campaign to start the union, they did not see a lot of anti-union messaging from the University, according to Auerbach.

“Getting 1,700 cards signed on day one, the day we went public, was a pretty strong message that we were not to be messed with,” Auerbach said. 

While GLU is preparing for any eventuality and outcome from the bargaining sessions, they continue to communicate with their members and keep them up to date. 

“Beyond the strong contract we know we will win,” Murad said. “We want every graduate worker to know that this is their union, and that the power of our union lies in the rank and file membership.” 

Auerbach believes it is important to keep people engaged with the process and hopes the graduate workers will be involved in whatever way they can. The union is as strong as the membership is engaged and involved, she said. 

“What we hope and expect is that the University will bargain in good faith with us,” Auerbach said. “We now need to win an awesome contract that is worthy of all the efforts we’ve put in thus far and actually meets our needs.”

The University and GLU are tracking updates on the bargaining efforts. 

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