University of Chicago Graduate Workers Head to Union Election

National Labor Relations Board Rules Against Administration, Sets
October Election Date

Press Release from the American Federation of Teachers

CHICAGO, IL —Graduate employees at the University of Chicago will vote in a historic union election in October to win union representation, after the National Labor Relations Board rejected university attempts to deny them a say at the ballot box.

The union election will be held on campus October 17 and 18 and will include all graduate students, including master’s degree students, who received compensation for work performed in a unit position across six divisions or schools in autumn 2016, winter 2017, spring 2017, summer 2017 or autumn 2017.

The NLRB ruling represents a win for graduate employees in their push for union recognition. Instead of acknowledging the workers’ right to hold a union election under federal labor law, the University of Chicago administration decided to expend resources re-litigating the issue of whether graduate students are also employees, stretching hearings on the matter over 10 full business days.

The NLRB regional director refuted the university’s position, finding instead that graduate students serving in teaching positions and research assistant positions “perform services for the benefit of the Employer, under its direction and control, for which they are compensated,” and therefore are employees under Section 2(3) of the National Labor Relations Act.

Graduate Students United member Daniela Palmer, a sixth-year grad student working and studying in the Committee on Evolutionary Biology, said: “We are thrilled that the NLRB has recognized the essential work that we do as graduate student employees at the University of Chicago. We will continue to rally together and build momentum toward our election this fall, when we will exercise our right to a vote for a voice in our working conditions.” GSU is affiliated with the Illinois Federation of Teachers and the American Federation of Teachers.

AFT President Randi Weingarten said: “I am immensely proud of the University of Chicago graduate employees, who have fought for the freedom to have a union. That right was affirmed by the NLRB, and the graduate workers who are the backbone of the academic work of the university will now vote for a real say over the work they do. The board confirmed what we already know—that graduate students are also workers who teach the classes and undertake the research central to the university’s mission. The Chicago administration decided to cynically re-litigate established precedent to delay democracy, but in the fall, the graduate employees will have their say loud and clear.”


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