UMN graduate assistants: No union for us, thanks

Just in from the Minnesota Daily:

Graduate assistants at the University of Minnesota voted against forming a union 1,857 to 1,142, according to results released by the Bureau of Mediation Services Monday.

Read the (short) article here.


Those initial numbers are right.

In last week’s voting, 62 percent of those who cast ballots rejected the formation of a union.

About two-thirds of all graduate assistants voted.

Unionization movement spokesman Scott Thaller a research assistant in physics, says he’s disappointed — but believes the drive will have implications for any future unionization efforts.

He told me:

“The concept of having a greater voice or a seat at the table where these decisions are made, I think we certainly raised people’s awareness of that.”


  • hftfiawh

    Zero for four, now. But, grad students turn over about every 5-6 years. I predict that the next union looking to harvest dues from the corpus grad studenti will come trolling through right around 2018.

    • Stephanie Rozman

      Just to be clear – UAW did not come “looking” for graduate students; graduate students interested in organizing sought a transnational union that would be able to aid their efforts. 

      Characterizations (like this one) of unions as outside organizations attempting to influence graduate student workers have been pervasive during the unionization campaign. They only obscure the fact that this is something that a significant number of graduate students clearly wanted, and that the union itself would have been composed of graduate student workers, not shadowy union administrators.

      • hftfiawh

        I acknowledge that I am not in a position to know who contacted whom, first. That being said, I am willing to hypothesize that UAW’s interest derived less from noble dedication to the proletariat and perhaps more from a desire to find a new source to feed its coffers rendered alarmingly empty by the near collapse of the American auto industry, which can likely be blamed about equally on the avarice of both management AND labor. The fundamental relationship between labor and management when unions are involved is adversarial (lord, could the GSWU posters have looked any MORE like revolutionaries attacking the bourgeoisie?) Such a model may be the best of various bad options in certain industries, but I personally reject the idea that in the academy I should have an adversarial relationship with my graduate students (all of whom voted no without any urging from me, explicit or otherwise, so I take that as some validation of a worthwhile relationship). For what it’s worth, I am saddened that a fraction of the U’s grad students are unhappy with their educational experience — THAT deserves attention — but the union solution was (for the fourth time in 20 years) a waste of time and energy.

        • Guest

          It’s their work experiences, not their educational experiences, that are the problem the union was meant to address. The two are distinguishable in important ways, if closely intertwined.

          While it sounds as though “your” students – your advisees? – work under your supervision, and you treat their work as a part of their overall educational experiences, surely you realize that many of the GAs/TAs/RAs throughout the U are not working directly under their advisors’ supervision. Some are employed in different departments, or in teaching or research roles that have little to do with their own course of study. A strong, positive relationship with an advisor doesn’t necessarily have any bearing on these experiences, and a union wouldn’t be intruding upon it. 

          Other faculty members have also published letters in the Daily throughout the campaign indicating that they would welcome the shared governance that a union would introduce to their working relationships with students (ex: ), so the idea that a union would always have been an “adversarial” development between advisors and advisees who are working together seems to overstate things a bit.

          If the unionization effort has raised your awareness about the large number of student workers who are unhappy with their experiences, I don’t think that it was a waste of time and energy. However, if nothing more than awareness comes of all of this, then it will truly be a shame.