University of Minnesota graduate student workers voting on unionization proposal

This week, for the fourth time since 1990, graduate student workers at the University of Minnesota are voting on whether to unionize.

If a majority of voters support the unionization proposal, the U of M's graduate students will organize under the umbrella of United Auto Workers.

Graduate students voted down unionization proposals in 1990, 1999, and 2005. Organizers have been collecting signatures from pro-union graduate workers for two years, with this week's election triggered after 30 percent of graduate workers signed a petition requesting a union vote.

Organizers actually collected pro-union signatures from more than 50 percent of graduate workers, which allowed them to ask University of Minnesota President Eric Kaler to allow for a union to be formed without a vote. But Kaler refused to allow grad workers to unionize without an election.

According to the Minnesota Daily, U of M graduate workers, with an annual salary of roughly $13,300, make about $1,000 more than the Big Ten average. Five Big Ten schools have graduate worker unions.

But the union drive is about more than income or health care benefits. Some graduate students complain that without a collective voice, they are sometimes exploited by professors who make unreasonable teaching and grading demands. A union would presumably be able to more powerfully advocate on behalf of graduate workers and work toward setting more uniform standards for workloads and teaching expectations.

If the union proposal is approved, students who join the UAW would end up paying at least $140 in annual dues. Non-members would still pay a "fair-share" fee amounting to up to 85 percent of what members pay, and the UAW would negotiate on behalf of all 4,500 U of M graduate workers whether or not they're members.

Is UAW membership worth about 1.15 percent of your salary? That's the question before U of M graduate workers this week. Voting takes place through Friday.

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