Letter to the Editor: Wash. U. grad workers union is still here, still fighting

Washington University Graduate Workers Union

Since fall 2016, Washington University graduate workers have been organizing to form a union, and the Wash. U. administration’s anti-union strategy has been to spread misinformation and to delay until the new federal National Labor Relations Board (NLRB) with President Donald Trump appointees overturns our right to organize. The Wash. U. administration made the list of who was eligible to vote in our union election. They excluded our colleagues pursuing master’s degrees and those pursuing degrees in the Institute of Materials Science and Engineering from the eligibility list, forcing them to cast “challenged” ballots, or ballots whose eligibility would have to be determined at a post-election hearing. The Wash. U. administration also inexplicably left off graduate workers from the list whose voting eligibility was clear (i.e., Ph.D. teaching assistants or research assistants), causing them to have to cast challenged ballots, too.

Though the Wash. U. administration framed the incomplete results of our election on Oct. 26 in their favor, the results of our election are still pending the NLRB’s official ruling because these 174 challenged ballots (nearly one-third of all votes cast) remain uncounted. We anticipate that even if the NLRB legitimized the votes of workers forced to cast challenged ballots, the Wash. U. administration would spend hundreds of thousands of tuition dollars in attorney fees to appeal every single decision, which could extend this process for a year or more. The Wash. U. administration knows dragging out this legal process wouldn’t hurt them, but it would hurt us. 

From the beginning, the Wash. U. administration has chosen to hide behind union-busting lawyers in the courtroom rather than to listen to us. We’re not going to play this legal game with the Wash. U. administration. We still believe that a unionized graduate student worker force is best for our University, and we will still fight for the measures we would have negotiated for in a labor contract. Fundamentally, a union is a group of workers making improvements with our strength in numbers. We are still the union, and we are still here. 

We have decided that the best strategy is to follow in the path of our colleagues at Duke University, whose administration also chose to delay and to obstruct their organizing efforts. We will take direct action now and continue acting like the union we’ve already built in order to keep fighting for what we believe: We deserve better, more comprehensive healthcare, child care, summer funding guarantees and parity for master’s student workers, to name a few examples. We have already won formal recognition as workers, despite the University saying we are not workers. We have already won six years of guaranteed funding, regardless of teaching assistant/research assistant status for Ph.D. workers at our pre-election NLRB hearing. We won’t stop fighting for our other demands until we win on them, too. 

We will make the Wash. U. administration wish they had let our democratic election proceed without interference or delay. We have already won, and we will continue to win so long as we act like the union we’ve already become.

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