Two major midwestern public campuses have seen efforts by graduate student employees to unionize that have made headlines in recent days.
At the University of Michigan, graduate student Jennifer Dibbern alleges that working on a campaign to organize her fellow graduate research assistants led to her dismissal from a post in the lab of materials science and engineering professor Rachel Goldman, reports the Chronicle of Higher Education.
At the University of Minnesota, meanwhile, graduate students belonging to Graduate Student Workers United (GSWU/UAW)
, a union affiliated with the national United Automobile, Aerospace and Agricultural Implement Workers of America (UAW), claim success in their own unionizing effort. They hand-delivered a letter
to university president Eric Kaler informing him that "a majority of graduate assistants have signed cards to form a union" and asking that he join them in "filing...a joint petition for union certification with the Minnesota Bureau of Mediation Services." A joint petition would eliminate the need for an election to determine whether a majority of the graduate assistants want the union certified as their respresentative. In case Kaler declines that suggestion, the letter continues, GSWU/UAW is also filing a petition for a certification election.
A joint petition by the union and university is "unlikely," reports the Minnesota Daily,
student newspaper. "We think that an election is the best way to go
because it allows for all graduate students to have the opportunity
to...vote," the Daily
quotes vice president for human resources Kathy Brown.
in Michigan, Goldman has declined to comment on Dibbern's accusation
and university officials have cited privacy laws that forbid them from
divulging information about a student's academic history. A university
spokesman did, however, characterize Dibbern's "factual claims" that she
was fired as "unfounded," the Chronicle notes.
Dibbern alleges that Goldman objected to time away from the lab working on the drive by the Graduate Employees Organization
-- a labor union that already has organized the campus's graduate
student instructors and graduate student staff assistants -- to organize
the graduate research assistants as well. Dibbern maintains that
despite these activities, she maintained high grades, spent 60 hours a
week in the lab, and won awards for her work.
including GEO members reportedly plan a protest to demand that the
university help Dibbern get started on a new career direction. The
situation represents "a clear case of union busting," says GEO president
Sam Montgomery, as quoted by the Chronicle. The university denies the charge.
assistants at private universities are not permitted to unionize
because the National Labor Relations Board ruled in 2004 that they are
students rather than employees. Labor practices at public universities,
however, are governed not by federal but by state laws, which in a
number of cases have permitted grad student assistants to form unions.