Grad students waste no time unionizing after NLRB ruling

Graduate students at several universities are rushing to take advantage of a recent National Labor Relations Board ruling granting them the right to unionize.

Within hours of the NLRB ruling extending union eligibility to graduate student workers, WRAL reports that students at Duke University had already begun taking steps to establish their own labor union, mirroring similarly swift responses at other universities across the country, including Northwestern University, St. Louis University, American University, University of Missouri, and Columbia University.

[RELATED: NLRB: grad students at private universities can unionize]

At Mizzou, for instance, the Coalition for Graduate Workers, which is affiliated with the Missouri National Education Association, is seeking recognition to represent about 2,600 MU graduate assistants in collective bargaining, according to The Columbia Tribune.

“There are many issues that are outstanding, and we won’t see results without pressure,” remarked Coalition spokesman Joseph Moore, with co-chairman Eric Scott adding that “we have no intent of slowing down.”

Pattie Quackenbush, a PhD student and non-tenured instructor at Mizzou, said establishing a union for graduate student workers is necessary because the university cannot be expected to honor mere promises.

“A promise is not a contract,” she noted. “They could break a promise.”

Meanwhile, Duke graduate students are also preparing for battle. Bennett Carpenter, a literature PhD candidate and student organizer at Duke, told NPR that “it's going to mean so much that the NLRB is going to recognize what we know as graduate students already, that we are workers and we deserve the same rights and opportunities as other workers.”

The Duke Graduate Students’ Union is also actively campaigning for the unionization effort on its Facebook page, encouraging prospective members to sign a confidential union authorization card provided by the Service Employees International Union (SEIU).

The DGSU was present on campus Wednesday, and posted a gallery of photos showing students holding up white boards with their reasons for wanting a union, though the only specific demand listed was dental care, with most students generically saying that they want “a voice” and “rights.”

Faculty Forward Network in North Carolina, a group of faculty members focused on “raising standards for our students and our profession,” has also been vocal on social media, using its Twitter account to rally students in support of unionization.

Others, however, notably the National Right to Work Legal Defense Foundation, have a very different take on the NLRB ruling.

“This is yet another attempt by the Obama NLRB to pay back their union boss benefactors by corralling more people into their forced dues ranks. The National Labor Relations Act’s one-size-fits all compulsory unionization model should be eliminated, not expanded to graduate students,” the organization’s Vice President, Patrick Semmens, said in a statement provided to Campus Reform.

“Unfortunately, this ruling will effectively turn institutions of higher learning into adversarial workplaces with one-size-fits-all contracts imposed on graduate students who oppose union’s so-called ‘representation,’” he added. “Graduate students should not be forced to pay tribute to a union boss for the opportunity further learn and develop their skills.”

Campus Reform reached out to the DGSU and the Faculty Forward Network for comment, but did not receive a response from either group in time for publication.

Follow the author of this article on Twitter: @AutumnDawnPrice