Graduate students pull petition for union

Emma Baker | Staff Reporter

Graduate students rallied outside of the Danforth University Center Tuesday after withdrawing their petition to receive union recognition by the National Labor Relations Board Nov. 15. The rally was held in response to a canceled meeting with Chancellor Mark Wrighton concerning the rights and status of graduate students on campus.

According to Provost Holden Thorp, since the graduate students who proposed the meeting over email to Wrighton identified themselves as the “Washington University Graduate Worker’s Union,” he could not legally meet with them, due to a ruling by the National Labor Relations Board (NLRB) that limits recognition and negotiation between management and a union if the union does not represent a majority of its bargaining unit.

Screen Shot 2017-11-30 at 12.20.22 AMGraphic by Brandon Wilburn

Thorp stated that administrators are still open to communication with graduate students.

“[Wrighton] canceled that meeting because he didn’t want to violate NLRB rules, but that doesn’t mean we’re not interested in talking with graduate students about how we can improve the various things they’ve raised in this process,” Thorp said.

While the graduate students believe the challenged votes would have resulted in a union, the process of getting the votes approved would have been expensive and time-consuming, according to chemistry graduate student Luciano Santino.

“We firmly believe—based on our numbers—that the sealed challenge ballots would have turned out in favor of a union. However, fighting the University’s lawyers for a year or more would have been a huge money and time sink—resources a wealthy University has, but graduate students do not. Fighting in the courts guaranteed us nothing but a loss of momentum,” Santino stated in an email.

Classics master’s student Sarah Crosley emphasized that the graduate students plan to continue negotiation attempts despite Wrighton declining to meet.

“We decided that we were going to take the meeting to him and let him know that, ‘You can keep canceling, but we’re going to keep requesting. We’re going to keep being on campus and demanding that our request be heard,’” Crosley said. “[The] rally was all about the fact that he canceled.”

Thorp emphasized that he believes that a union would only hinder conversations between students and administration.

“I think they raised some interesting and important considerations in the process. And I learned about some things that we probably need to work on,” Thorp said. “I’m grateful we don’t have a union and that we can engage with our graduate student’s governance process directly and try to work on some things they’ve raised.”

According to Crosley, graduate students would consider submitting another union petition to the NLRB.

“The organizing committee decided to pull the petition to maintain our momentum and keep moving forward, rather than wait in almost limbo for an extended amount of time, in the hopes that we can continue to work together to see substantial change on campus,” Crosley said.

At the rally, graduate student unionization leaders encouraged concerned students to attend the listening sessions to voice their concerns about the rights of graduate students to the executive board as the search for the next chancellor begins.

“I’m grateful to the individuals who raised these issues so that we can work on them. And I take responsibility for the fact that they had to do all of this in order to get our attention,” Thorp said. “I’m grateful for their courage and advocacy. And we’ll get after working on some of their concerns.”