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Graduate Workers, Four Major Unions Launch Unprecedented National Campaign to Bring Private Universities to the Bargaining Table

AFT, SEIU, UAW and UNITE HERE join together to demand that university administrators respect majority votes for unionization instead of appealing to Trump’s Labor Board

New York City – Graduate workers together with national leaders from four major unions and their allies delivered letters today to the presidents of Yale, Columbia, Boston College, the University of Chicago, and Loyola of Chicago in joint demands that the administrators honor recent democratic majority votes in favor of unionization. In each case, university administrators have refused to bargain and instead attempted to put the issue in the hands of Donald Trump’s National Labor Relations Board – a move designed to take away their rights and the rights of tens of thousands of other graduate workers across the US.

“A majority of RAs and TAs voted yes for our union but, rather than respect that clear choice, our administration attempted to get the Trump Board to take away our rights,” said Yaniv Ron-El, a grad worker at the University of Chicago, where workers voted last October by an overwhelming 69 percent in favor of unionization as part of the American Federation of Teachers (AFT). “We have prevented our university from revoking our legal rights at the Labor Board, and today we declare that we will stand together with tens of thousands of our colleagues and our national unions until all private universities respect our democratic right to unionize.”

In 2016, graduate workers at Columbia University became the first in the nation to win the right to unionize through a landmark National Labor Relations Board decision that ruled graduate workers can be considered university employees. Though the workers voted by an overwhelming 72 percent in favor of unionization in December 2016, the administration recently announced it will refuse to bargain.

“Over the last year and a half, since the historic Columbia decision, a groundswell of graduate workers have organized to demand change,” said Dennis Williams, President of the United Auto Workers. “In elections involving 18,000 eligible voters at 13 different private universities and colleges, graduate workers chose unionization by a nearly 60 percent margin overall. Our unions have supported these workers since the 1990s and will continue to do so as long as it takes, until administrators stop trying to hide behind anti-worker labor boards and instead acknowledge the voice of these workers who are so critical to the quality of our universities.”

Building on the unions’ recent withdrawal of NLRB cases at the three universities, today’s action signals the increasing strength and coordination of the graduate worker movement. Tens of thousands of graduate workers across the country have unionized, and thousands more are currently organizing. By working together and offering national, coordinated assistance, the coalition of unions will be better able to support them and encourage their employers to bargain.

Click here to read the letter