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Grad student workers at University of Minnesota win union election by 97% majority

By staff |
April 29, 2023
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Minneapolis, MN - On Friday, April 28 over 4100 graduate student workers’ votes were counted in a union election at the University of Minnesota. The vote was held over three days. When the votes were counted, the grad students turned out to have cast 2487 ballots in favor of forming a union and 70 ballots against, for a 97% majority. The grad students began signing union cards in February and turned in a strong majority on cards in March to trigger this vote.

The new bargaining unit will include graduate student workers at the Twin Cities and Duluth campuses of the university and will be represented by the United Electrical Workers (UE). In addition to their role as grad students, they are also workers at the university who work as teaching and research assistants. They say they organized and formed their union to win higher wages, improvements to benefits, and to fight for lower student fees. The current pay range for grad student workers at the University of Minnesota is $16,000-$25,000 a year.

Lilly Webster, one of the grad students in the newly formed union, said, “Asking nicely wasn’t going to get us the things that we desperately need,” and “There are too many people who are struggling to make rent, too many people who are struggling to put food on the table, too many people who are struggling for childcare.”

In recent months grad students have formed unions at Northwestern University, Johns Hopkins University and the University of Southern California, joining the 33 already recognized grad student unions across the United States. 

The newly union grad students at the University of Minnesota succeeded after six previous attempts since 1974 didn’t go through. They say that a major factor in their success was that they had enough grad students on the organizing committee from engineering, math and science. In the attempt before this, those areas were widely unsupportive so representation from those areas was key to winning this time. In the end they won big.

At Temple University union workers won a 23% raise recently. At the University of California grad students recently won childcare reimbursement through their union; at University of Washington, they won increases to time off. The University of Minnesota is set to receive more than $1.5 billion from the state of Minnesota over the next two years. Now that they have formed a union the grad students will be able to collectively fight and negotiate over their terms and conditions of employment for the first time, and they are committed to fight for higher wages and better benefits.