Press Release

Graduate Workers Strike Back Against Trump Anti-Union Rule

Thousands of Grads in Multiple Cities Reject President’s Cynical Assault on Right to Join Together

For Release: 

Thursday, November 14, 2019

Contact:

Andrew Crook
o: 202-393-8637 | c: 607-280-6603
acrook@aft.org
Omar Martinez
202-658-8816
omar.martinez@seiu.org

NATIONWIDE—Graduate employees took to the streets Thursday in Washington, D.C., Boston and Chicago to reject a proposed Trump administration rule that would strip them of the right to unionize.

At a 1 p.m. rally in the nation’s capital, grad workers hand-delivered nearly 30,000 comments to the National Labor Relations Board contesting the draft rule. They made the case that they are essential employees who grade the papers, do the research and teach the classes that keep their institutions running.

Meanwhile, across town, Rep. Mark Pocan (D-Wis.) introduced the Respect Graduate Student Workers Act, which would prohibit the NLRB from enacting the proposed rule. The bill seeks to ensure full labor protections for graduate student workers—no matter the educational relationship between employees and their college or university.

Under federal law, graduate employees at private colleges are workers entitled to the same protections as others—including the right to join a union and bargain over wages and conditions. But instead of upholding the law, the president wants to overturn it. The draft rule, released in September, aims to devalue grads’ labor and muzzle their voice.

Hundreds of grads also rallied at a NLRB regional office in Chicago and at Boston’s City Hall to resist any attempt to deny them their rights, joining colleagues around the country fighting back against the president’s ruinous agenda.

Lena Eckert-Erdheim, a fifth-year graduate teacher in history at Yale University, said: “We are not asking for anything unreasonable. We want to be paid fairly and equally for the work we do to keep the university running, to have access to good healthcare for ourselves and our families. We want transparency in how our work is assigned. If we are being mistreated—harassed or exploited—we want a fair and accountable grievance procedure. Our work—teaching classes, working in labs, grading papers, meeting with students—is the work of the university.”

Clara del Junco, a senior doctoral candidate and worker in chemistry at the University of Chicago, said: “I do research and publish papers that advance my adviser’s career and are used to obtain government and foundation funding that keeps the lights on at the university. Although I continue to learn new science, and expect that I always will in my research career, in other aspects of my work in which I represent the university—writing and submitting papers and grants, giving talks, recruiting graduate students, etc.—I am now an expert. I can and do perform these tasks with little input or guidance from my faculty adviser.”

Lacy Murphy, a graduate worker at Washington University in St. Louis, said: “This isn’t just about graduate workers. This is part of a bigger plan to strip those of us who work for a living of our right to stand together to make change. We won’t sit by quietly as this administration whittles away our right to a union.”

Sara Suzuki, a sixth-year doctoral candidate in applied developmental and educational psychology at Boston College, said: “Graduate student workers, like all other workers, should have a voice in determining fair and dignified working conditions for ourselves. In the current political climate, it is especially important for workers to be able to unionize so that we can protect ourselves from discrimination and harassment based on our social identities, such as our gender, our sexuality or our citizenship status.”

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The AFT represents 1.7 million pre-K through 12th-grade teachers; paraprofessionals and other school-related personnel; higher education faculty and professional staff; federal, state and local government employees; nurses and healthcare workers; and early childhood educators.