From blue wave to union wave: The AFT welcomes new members in three states this November

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Is there something in the air this month? Leading up to the midterm elections, AFT members cared, fought, showed up, voted, and ran for office—and we won big on Election Day. But we didn’t stop there. In three separate union elections this month, workers from Washington, D.C., Connecticut and Rhode Island have voted “union yes” for a voice on the job through the AFT.

In a historic vote that took place on Nov. 9, Georgetown University graduate employees in Washington, D.C., voted decisively for a union, with more than 83 percent voting yes. This election was the first to set a new path to recognition, circumventing the Trump-appointed National Labor Relations Board and instead certifying the vote through the American Arbitration Association.

GAGE victory

Hailey Huget, a doctoral candidate in philosophy, says the Georgetown Alliance of Graduate Employees’ victory was the result of a strong foundation. “Here’s how we did it: We talked to our peers, we listened to them, and we built a union that put their needs first. We engaged community allies. All of us worked together to put pressure on Georgetown to live up to its values and recognize the dignity of our labor.” The issues GAGE members hope to tackle include a living wage; improved access to health insurance, including dental and vision; better family leave and daycare options; and protections for international students.

Meanwhile, in Vernon, Conn., a diverse group of healthcare professionals at Rockville General Hospital voted on Nov. 14 to join AFT Connecticut, making them part of the same union family as the hospital’s registered nurses, who joined the AFT in 2010. 

Rockville General Hospital victory

“Choosing ‘union yes’ means we’ll have a seat at the table with hospital administration,” says Wendy Kurtzman, a phlebotomy lab aide. “We’ve empowered ourselves to have a say where we didn’t before. Now we can join with our hospital’s nurses in advocating for those we care for. That makes this a win for our community, too,” adds Kurtzman, a member of the RGH Healthcare Workers United organizing committee.

Finally, on Nov. 19, graduate employees at Brown University in Providence, R.I., voted to join the AFT, in the culmination of a campaign stretching back to 2002, when the university stripped students of their collective bargaining rights—a precedent that has now been overturned once and for all.

Kaitlyn Quaranta, a graduate assistant in French studies, says, “Hundreds of graduate workers stood up this week and sent a clear message that our labor for the university should not be taken for granted. Winning this election is about more than just improving working conditions for grads at Brown. In voting to unionize, we stood up for labor rights during an incredibly anti-labor administration.”

As AFT President Randi Weingarten often points out, when workers vote to unionize, they are recognizing that “when you stand up and exercise your voice with others, you accomplish far more together than you could alone.” Together, these new AFT members are stronger, and they add to the power of the AFT, helping us accomplish more by strengthening our collective voice. We’re thrilled to welcome them all to the AFT family. 

[Leilah Mooney Joseph/AFT Media Affairs]