PRINCETON, N.J.—Graduate employees at Princeton University have joined their peers at the University of Chicago and Cornell University by affiliating with the American Federation of Teachers, as the national movement for graduate unionization gains pace.
Members of Princeton Graduate Students United voted overwhelmingly this week to join with the AFT and its state affiliate, AFT New Jersey, in the wake of the National Labor Relations Board’s recent decision to formally classify private colleges’ graduate teaching and research assistants as workers.
The AFT, the largest U.S. higher education union, already represents more than 25,000 grad employee members across 23 institutions and nine states.
David Walsh, a third-year doctoral student in the history department, said: “I’m pro-union because I think graduate students at Princeton University need a firm, independent advocate for our interests. I’m pro-AFT because it has a proven track record of successful organizing in the state of New Jersey.”
Edna Goodman, a sixth-year doctoral student, said: “I think the movement to unionize graduate workers in Princeton is part of a larger struggle to highlight the value of academic labor. Graduate students, undergraduates and adjunct professors have continued to provide cheap labor with little protection, and unionization can help ensure that we are protected as workers. Not only is it a question of labor but it is connected to job prospects after college, austerity in the university system, and autonomy in the workplace.”
AFT graduate members across the country welcomed PGSU to the fold.
John Ware, a fifth-year doctoral student in physics at the University of Michigan and president of the UM Graduate Employees’ Organization, said: “The experience of working for more just, equitable, healthy and diverse higher education is one every researcher will recognize: that of taking small steps every day in service of a goal bigger than ourselves. I’m delighted to welcome Princeton graduate employees to the AFT as collaborators in that nationwide effort.”
Shawn Fields, a fourth-year doctoral student in anthropology at the University of Illinois Urbana-Champaign and co-president of UIUC’s Graduate Employees’ Organization, said: “As a fellow graduate employee, I am excited not only that the graduate employees at Princeton are forming a union, but that they chose to affiliate with the AFT. Affiliation with the AFT has helped us foster communities and networks of educators, both locally and nationwide, that are oriented toward justice and equity in both K-12 and higher education, through groups like the Racial Justice Task Force and the Alliance of Graduate Employee Locals.
“Being able to share support and advice, and celebrate victories, with other graduate locals has been an invaluable boon to our local. We look forward to meeting, helping and celebrating with the graduate employees at Princeton.”
AFT President Randi Weingarten said: “We’re very excited that Princeton grad students—like those at Cornell and the University of Chicago—have chosen the AFT and our state affiliate, AFT New Jersey. The recent NLRB decision, Columbia University, has given grad employees at private universities the same rights as their public counterparts; it’s a pathway for a real say over their work lives. The AFT, as the largest U.S. higher education union, is committed to supporting grad students in raising their voices around the country as this growing national movement takes flight.”
AFT New Jersey President Donna M. Chiera said: “We see organized graduate student workers achieving many gains for themselves and helping our colleges and universities thrive. Graduate student workers make significant contributions to research and academics at their schools and deserve respect and a professional voice. AFT New Jersey is the leading advocate for higher education, representing faculty, graduate students, postdoctoral employees, and professional and research staff at all of the state’s four-year colleges and universities and many of its community colleges.
“We are proud that Princeton University graduate workers are coming together to learn about the many benefits of joining us and encourage them to be part of the union movement.”