CHICAGO—Graduate employees at the University of Chicago have overwhelmingly reaffirmed their choice to organize with the American Federation of Teachers, the Illinois Federation of Teachers and the American Association of University Professors.
Members of Graduate Students United at the University of Chicago voted 302-179 for continued AFT-IFT-AAUP affiliation in a ballot that concluded Tuesday night. GSU has been jointly affiliated with the three unions since 2011.
GSU member Tanima Sharma, a third-year Anthropology student, said: “We’re thrilled that our membership took so seriously the questions of the recent referendum. Based on its clear mandate, we are ready to begin organizing a union-recognition campaign that will be able to address the issues facing grad students on this campus and at private universities around the country.
“We need better pay, more-secure funding and stronger healthcare plans. We need meaningful commitments to diversity and inclusion, and we need a say in the terms of our labor. Unionization is the best path to achieve these goals and to institutionalize democracy at the University of Chicago.”
The University of Chicago vote comes hot on the heels of a new wave of private sector graduate workers seeking to organize with the AFT at Cornell University and other institutions across the country. The AFT represents the oldest graduate employee local (formed in 1969) and more than 25,000 graduate employees at 23 institutions across nine states. The AFT is also the largest union of university faculty in the United States.
The IFT, which is affiliated with the AFT, represents faculty, staff and grad students at the University of Illinois (at the Chicago, Urbana-Champaign and Springfield campuses), Chicago State University, City Colleges of Chicago, community colleges throughout Cook County, Northeastern Illinois University, Northern Illinois University and more.
AFT President Randi Weingarten said: “This week, in the wake of the new National Labor Relations Board decision supporting their right to organize, graduate employees at the University of Chicago reaffirmed their affiliation with the AFT and their path to a real voice with the university.
“We are proud of our long partnership with GSU at the University of Chicago and are excited to work together to address the very real issues the grad workers, who do much of the teaching and research on campus, need addressed. Tens of thousands of graduate students are already affiliated with the AFT, as momentum builds in our nationwide fight for them to be recognized as the higher education professionals they are. The AFT will be with them every step of the way.”
IFT President Daniel Montgomery, who is an AFT vice president, said: “The University of Chicago works, in large part, because of the labor performed by graduate employees. They deserve to have a real say in the decisions that affect them every day. Today, the GSU grad students sent a message that the best way to make change is to build power and collaboration at the grass roots. We’re very proud that they’re part of the IFT family, which already includes thousands of higher education faculty, staff and graduate student employees across the state.”
Since 1915, the AAUP has worked to promote the economic well-being of faculty and academic professionals, to protect their academic freedom and to ensure their meaningful participation in decision-making on campus. The AAUP has chapters at hundreds of institutions across the country. It has long been committed to organizing graduate employees and currently represents them at a number of institutions where they have achieved significant gains as a result of collective bargaining.
Rudy Fichtenbaum, president of the AAUP, said: “The AAUP is thrilled to be working with graduate employees at the University of Chicago. Members of Graduate Students United at the University of Chicago have shown their commitment to creating a member-run union as they campaigned to improve conditions on their campus. The AAUP is proud to support them and looks forward to continuing to work with them to enhance their voice on campus.”