Graduate workers vote in favor of unionization

MU and UM System officials have said they will not recognize the election results.
Two members of the League of Women Voters wait for graduate student workers to vote on unionization on Tuesday, April 19 in Memorial Union. Eighty-four percent of graduate student workers who voted were in favor of allowing the Coalition of Graduate Workers to represent them in collective bargaining with MU and the UM System.

Graduate student workers made their support for unionization official Tuesday, with 84 percent voting in favor of authorizing the Coalition of Graduate Workers to represent them in collective bargaining with MU and the UM System. The Columbia chapter of the League of Women Voters reported 668 graduate workers voted in favor and 127 voted against.

“This result is in spite of eleventh hour voter intimidation by the University of Missouri administration, and it unequivocally demonstrates that graduate student employees will not accept the status quo,” CGW wrote in a news release. “It is also the culmination of an academic year of tireless organizing during which the graduate student employees of the University of Missouri have provided inspiration to universities across the United States. If the University of Missouri is to move forward, it will be due in no small part to the resolute desire of graduate students to make the University of Missouri a better institution of higher education.”

Graduate student Jesse Hoff, a research assistant in the department of genetics, said he voted in favor of unionization to solidify graduate workers’ place at the table. He believes the union will help graduate students consistently have their voices heard and their rights respected.

“Grad students run the university,” Hoff said. “We do the research, we do the teaching and we need to make sure that we have full representation of what our needs are at all levels and across all departments of the university.”

The union authorization election came after a year of tension between graduate students and administration. 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. The Forum on Graduate Rights 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 an interview with the Columbia Daily Tribune on April 9, interim Chancellor Hank 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.

Graduate student Jennifer Lewallen said she voted yes after conferring with colleagues. She took offense to Foley’s comments.

“That’s another reason I came out: for us to kind of stick it to him,” Lewallen said. “Graduate students are not kids. We are adults. Many of us have kids of our own, and we do a lot of work here at the university, and we do it happily, and we want to be recognized for the work that we do as employees of the university.”

Although the vote proves the graduate workers’ support of unionization, CGW still needs the administration to recognize the election results and the union itself before it can move forward as graduate workers’ collective bargaining agent.

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.

The Missouri Constitution does not specify whether graduate workers are employees.

Graduate student Ben Daniels said he voted in part because of graduate student issues raised after the health insurance scare in August. He cited lack of graduate student housing and accessible, affordable child care as other factors in his decision.

“I’m lucky enough that I don’t have a child or a family right now, but I can’t imagine supporting that on a stipend of $1,200 a month,” Daniels said.

In its news release, CGW said it looked forward beginning contract negotiations with the university.

“We view the results as a clear mandate for in favor of graduate student employee collective bargaining, and we call for the administration of the University of Missouri to duly recognize these democratic results,” the news release read.

Amos Chen and Andrew Frein contributed to this report.

Edited by Taylor Blatchford |

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