Dear Graduate Students,
There is a national conversation underway about graduate student unionization at private universities, a subject that has recently been discussed at some graduate events here at the University of Chicago. To help foster an open conversation about the issue and to keep students informed, we created a webpage with general information, frequently asked questions that have arisen during our conversations around campus, and resources for your reference. Our goal is to provide you with a variety of resources that we hope will catalyze your thinking about whether or not, if federal law changes and a labor union files a representation petition, you want a union to represent you and bargain on your behalf with the University. We want to foster rigorous dialogue around the issues in true University of Chicago fashion.
The University of Chicago is committed to providing its graduate students with a superior education and excellent placement opportunities upon program completion. Your accomplishments bring recognition and distinction to you, the faculty, and the University. As an institution, the University is committed to recruiting and maintaining the very best students, which means we must offer competitive graduate student opportunities. It is with this goal in mind that the University has invested heavily in recent years in improving the graduate student experience, with increased financial support through several channels, expanded academic opportunities, enhanced pedagogical training, and resources designed to help you successfully transition from your student years to careers in the academy, government, nonprofits, and industry. In recent years, faculty, students and the administration have successfully worked together through a variety of channels to improve the graduate student experience. There is, of course, always more progress to be made, and your deans, deans of students, and the central administration are committed to continuing direct dialogue with you with the goal of maintaining the upward trajectory of the graduate student experience.
Under current federal labor law, graduate student research and teaching assistants at private universities are not considered employees and thus do not have a right to unionize. However, there are two cases (involving Columbia University and The New School) pending before the National Labor Relations Board (NLRB) that revisit this issue. If the NLRB rules that graduate students at private universities who serve in research or teaching positions are employees who may unionize, then a labor union could file a petition with the NLRB seeking to represent graduate research and/or teaching assistants here. A secret ballot election would be your opportunity to decide whether or not you want a labor union to serve as your agent to negotiate with the University over the terms and conditions of teaching and research assistantships. The outcome of any election would be determined by a majority of graduate student voters, not by the faculty or administration. In other words, if an election occurs, the choice will be collectively and exclusively yours. Although the graduate student population is large and diverse and the student experience varies across divisions and departments, if a union seeks to represent graduate students in your program, the election will be binding on you and on future students in your program regardless of how you vote and regardless of whether or not you choose to vote. It is important to know that if you choose not to vote, you commit yourself and your successors to a choice made by others.
The University of Chicago is celebrated for fostering an environment of open discourse and vibrant exchange of viewpoints. We believe that open and rigorous dialogue across our community about how a graduate student union will impact graduate students, undergraduates, the faculty, and the University as a whole is in the best interests of all members of our community and is in the best tradition of the University of Chicago. We look forward to continuing this dialogue and we invite you to participate openly and freely.
Eric D. Isaacs
Robert A. Millikan Distinguished Service Professor in the Department of Physics, the James Franck Institute, and the College
Vice Provost for Academic Initiatives
Stella M. Rowley Professor in the Department of Psychology, the Committee on Education, and the College