As election approaches, tensions mount between grad students, university

In an interview with the Columbia Tribune on Friday, interim Chancellor Hank Foley said the university would not recognize the Coalition of Graduate Worker’s union authorization election being held this week.
Grad Student and supporters gather around the columns on Francis Quad on Nov. 10 for the Grad Student walk out and March to the Columns. Elections for the Grad Student Union begin Monday, April 18. Maneater File Photo

@MUGradRights, the Twitter account of the Forum on Graduate Rights, has been a flurry of activity the last several days after the most recent development in the push for graduate worker unionization.

In an interview on Friday with the Columbia Tribune, interim Chancellor Hank Foley said the university would not recognize the unionization authorization election to be held April 18–19.

Graduate workers will vote on whether they want the Coalition of Graduate Workers, an extension of the Forum on Graduate Rights, to represent them in collective bargaining.

In August, graduate students were informed 13 hours before their health coverage period ended that it would not be renewed. The insurance was quickly reinstated. FGR and CGW were formed shortly thereafter, and CGW began planning for unionization in early September. They met with administration at the MU and UM System level several times throughout the year, according to previous Maneater reporting.

In February, interim UM System President Mike Middleton said the administration needed legal clarity on the employee status of graduate students before the union could be recognized. CGW is preparing to file a lawsuit in order to get a court ruling on their employee status. In the meantime, the union authorization election will determine whether CGW has graduate worker support.

Foley called the election a “mock vote” and a “straw poll,” adding that seeing the results would be important, but ultimately the university would look to the courts for a determination of whether graduate workers are employees.

Foley said the administration had “done all the things they wanted and more, so we are trying to walk the fine line of saying, ‘We don’t think you need the union.’”

“I don’t want to go to war with these kids,” he said.

In a news release later that day, the Coalition of Graduate Workers expressed their frustration with Foley’s remarks.

“Referring to a democratic and constitutionally guaranteed election as a ‘mock election’ is inaccurate and inappropriate,” the news release read. “Although we understand that the University is unwilling to recognize the results of the election at this time, we emphasize that this is a choice the University is making.”

CGW also took issue with Foley’s use of the word “kids” to refer to the graduate student population.

“This is a patronizing and troubling indication of the University’s attitude toward a population with an average age of over 30, many of whom have families and children of their own,” the news release read. “Graduate student employees are educators, researchers, and dedicated professionals, and University leadership owes them a basic level of respect.”

On April 9, CGW became officially affiliated with the Missouri National Education Association. The group plans to file a lawsuit to get a legal determination on their employee status, according to previous Maneater reporting.

The election begins Monday morning. Polling stations will be set up from 7 a.m. to 6 p.m. Monday and Tuesday in the Student Center and Memorial Union, and results will be announced Tuesday night. The Columbia chapter of the League of Women Voters will operate the election and certify its results.

Edited by Taylor Blatchford |

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