University of Minnesota graduate student workers voting on unionization proposal

Categories: U of M
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The U of M could soon become the sixth Big Ten school with a grad worker union.
This week, for the fourth time since 1990, graduate student workers at the University of Minnesota are voting on whether to unionize.

If a majority of voters support the unionization proposal, the U of M's graduate students will organize under the umbrella of United Auto Workers.

Graduate students voted down unionization proposals in 1990, 1999, and 2005. Organizers have been collecting signatures from pro-union graduate workers for two years, with this week's election triggered after 30 percent of graduate workers signed a petition requesting a union vote.

Organizers actually collected pro-union signatures from more than 50 percent of graduate workers, which allowed them to ask University of Minnesota President Eric Kaler to allow for a union to be formed without a vote. But Kaler refused to allow grad workers to unionize without an election.

According to the Minnesota Daily, U of M graduate workers, with an annual salary of roughly $13,300, make about $1,000 more than the Big Ten average. Five Big Ten schools have graduate worker unions.

But the union drive is about more than income or health care benefits. Some graduate students complain that without a collective voice, they are sometimes exploited by professors who make unreasonable teaching and grading demands. A union would presumably be able to more powerfully advocate on behalf of graduate workers and work toward setting more uniform standards for workloads and teaching expectations.

If the union proposal is approved, students who join the UAW would end up paying at least $140 in annual dues. Non-members would still pay a "fair-share" fee amounting to up to 85 percent of what members pay, and the UAW would negotiate on behalf of all 4,500 U of M graduate workers whether or not they're members.

Is UAW membership worth about 1.15 percent of your salary? That's the question before U of M graduate workers this week. Voting takes place through Friday.

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This is an important moment for the university. Over the past couple of years many graduate assistants have experienced increasing workloads without receiving additional compensation. I believe that a union would not only give graduate students a voice in their working conditions, I also think that it would steer the U back, at least little bit, into the direction of its mission of a public university. Also, it is important to note that graduate assistants will only have to start paying fees after a contract has been negotiated. The approval of a construct requires another vote, and it is therefore highly unlikely that the fees will outweigh the financial benefits (which, as the article correctly states, is only one aspect of why a union is necessary, workloads being another major factor).


I am a graduate assistant at the U and am strongly in support of unionization. It will give us a democratic voice in our workplace, and a basis on which to negotiate with the University. That is really essential given the current budget crisis, and the tough decisions the U is having to make.


Glad to see this article in the CP. However, I take issue with the way this article ends. Having a union is about more than 1.15% of our salaries given to UAW. It is about having a say in our terms of employment! As employees of the University of Minnesota, GAs should have some sort of direct relationship with them that allows us to negotiate our jobs. This is only fair!

Also, I want to correct your statement that Professors overburden GAs. Although this does happen, I think your statement makes it seem as if these were individual instances but in fact they are largely systematic. Even though the daily tasks given to you as a GA are outlined by your professor, the U of M sets the number of students each GA is in charge of which is really what defines your work load. Let's be honest, having 20 students compared to 60 really changes things. 


As someone who was a graduate student for the 2005 union drive, I can say that unionization is very important for UofM graduate student workers. Graduate employees provide a valuable service to the state of Minnesota, teaching many, many student--and often not compensated adequately. Vote "yes" on the union!


Correction: Union membership is actually 1.15% of salary, not 2 percent.

Correction: GSWU had nearly 60% of folks signing a card to form a union.  30% is the minimum you need, they had nearly twice that.

Apparently Aaron Rupar did not take the time to do some basic research on this one....


Believe it or not, I did research this at some length but came across conflicting information. Looking at my sources again, it appears the Daily's numbers are the same as yours, so I edited the piece to reflect that. I apologize for the misinformation, it's corrected now. Thanks for pointing that out.

As for the 60 percent signing rate, I do briefly mention that higher up in the piece.

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