University of Chicago graduate student workers unionize

The vote to affiliate with the United Electrical, Radio and Machine Workers of America follows a similar move by graduate students at Northwestern University.

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Students walk through the quad at the University of Chicago during a rainy day last fall.

University of Chicago graduate students working in teaching and research at the university have voted to unionize.

Tyler Pasciak LaRiviere/Sun-Times file

Graduate students involved in teaching and research at the University of Chicago have voted overwhelmingly to unionize, two months after a similar group at Northwestern University took that step.

The U of C students voted 1,696-155 to establish a bargaining unit with the United Electrical, Radio and Machine Workers of America. The Northwestern graduate students affiliated with the same union in January.

The National Labor Relations Board, a federal agency that monitors union certification votes, announced the U of C tally on Thursday. The election was conducted by mail and in person.

Andrew Seber, a union organizer at U of C and a doctoral student in history, said members hope to increase the stipends paid to all graduate student workers, improve benefits and establish a grievance procedure to ensure fair treatment. He said the student workers are paid a minimum stipend of $33,000 a year, an amount slated to go to $37,000 next year.

“Our members are feeling the effects of inflation, debt and the cost of health care,” he said. The new bargaining unit, called UChicago Graduate Students United, will survey members about priorities in a first contract and hopes to begin negotiations soon.

In a statement to the university community, U of C Provost Ka Yee C. Lee congratulated the new union members and pledged to bargain “with the goal of supporting the continued academic success of all graduate students.”

The university said about 3,300 graduate students, a third of those on campus, were eligible to vote in the election based on their assignments.

The electrical workers union, known as UE, has been organizing outside traditional blue-collar industries that have been in decline. Seber said members responded favorably to UE’s emphasis on building rank-and-file leadership within the bargaining unit.

The Northwestern group in January voted 1,644-114 to unionize with UE.

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