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November 28, 2022

IU graduate workers’ demand for union recognition mirrors national trend

The demand by Indiana University graduate student workers for union recognition mirrors a national trend that has accelerated since 2013. Since that time, unionization by graduate student employees has increased by more than 31%.

Growth in unionization among graduate student employees has been explosive over the last decade according to William A. Herbert, executive director of the National Center for the Study of Collective Bargaining in Higher Education and the Professions at Hunter College, City University of New York.

From 2013 to 2019, a total of 16 new graduate student employee collective bargaining units were recognized or certified in the United States, comprising 19,627 members. Before 2013, a total of 62,656 graduate student employees were represented, according to a 2020 report by the Center.

So far this year, graduate student bargaining units have been certified or recognized at MIT, Fordham University, Clarke University, the University of New Mexico, according to Herbert. In 2021, a group of some 12,000 graduate researchers at the University of California voted to unionize. Unionization attempts are pending at New Mexico State University and the University of Hawaii.

Union certification refers to the legal recognition of a union by a state, which requires the employer to bargain collectively with its members. Union recognition refers to voluntary acceptance of a union by an employer as the collective bargaining unit for the union’s employees.

The Indiana Graduate Coalition is seeking recognition of its union, according to the Coalition website. Members have been on strike against the university since April 13. If recognized, members aim to bargain for a long-term contract that guarantees the end of mandatory fees, a living wage and fairness for international students, among other concerns.

The university has recognized three other employee unions representing custodial, workers, clerical workers and police but denies the need for unionization of graduate worker, who commonly teach undergraduate classes.

The university considers graduate workers, who commonly teach undergraduate courses, to be primarily students rather than employees, though acknowledging that they do work up to 20 hours per week.

“I do not believe that we need a union to improve graduate education and I will not re-visit this decision,” Bloomington campus provost Rahul Shrivastav wrote in an April 5 letter to faculty published by The Herald-Times

However, Shrivastav later ordered the formation of a task force on the future of graduate education on the campus according to an April 18 press release. The group’s mandate is to develop a comprehensive analysis of graduate and professional education at IU Bloomington, create a vision for the ideal graduate experience and make recommendations for action.

University spokesperson Chuck Carney did not respond to a request for comment. However, he previously indicated to The Herald-Timesthat IU President Pamela Whitten “stands with the provost.”

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