Washington University graduate workers move forward in their fight for change on campus

GRADUATE STUDENTS at Washington University in St. Louis march in support of unionization efforts. – WashU Graduate Workers Forward photo

By the Labor Tribune
and PAI Union News Service

Moving forward in their fight with a system rigged against them, graduate workers, students, faculty and community allies rallied on Washington University’s campus on Monday, Nov. 13, to highlight the continued need for changes on the campus, specifically regarding issues such as healthcare and equality.

Graduate workers and their supporters in Service Employees International Union (SEIU) Local 1 and the wider community are fighting for the future of higher education in St. Louis and around the country, working to find ways to join together in any way possible for power at work and on campus because of the difficult issues they face.

Local 1 sought recognition among the graduate workers in a unionization vote Oct. 25-26, but the validity of some 174 challenged ballots remains to be decided.

The National Labor Relations Board, which ran the election, impounded the ballots until its regional office could rule on the validity of the contested votes.

The impounded ballots were from RAs and TAs in the university’s Institute of Materials Science and Engineering. No explanation was provided on why those RAs and TAs could cast only challenged ballots.


Washington University’s administration has made clear that they do not intend to respect the rights of graduate workers as employees exercising their right to join a union.

The University had claimed RAs and TAs are students, not employees, who are eligible to vote on unionization under labor law.

But the previous Democratic-appointed majority on the NLRB had ruled RAs and TAs are employees. (The new GOP majority may reverse that decision before one of the three GOP members leaves the board at the end of this year.)

Student Life, the university’s student newspaper, reported university management ran an anti-union campaign up to, through and even after the election, bombarding RAs and TAs with five anti-union university-wide e-mails in the week before the vote.

The school administration even threatened students with deportation, using fear to intimidate students.


However, graduate workers have decided to move forward and form a graduate worker association on campus that will allow them to continue to stand up against the intimidation and fear sown by the administration and the rules that are rigged in towards those in power; and they will continue to focus on the important matters facing the University, its faculty and its students.

“The WUSTL administration is doing everything they can to delay our efforts to win a union and to improve conditions for graduate workers,” said JB Duck-Mayr, a graduate worker in the Political Science department. “We anticipate WashU will drag out the process of counting the challenged ballots from our election by appealing decisions at each step for as long as they possibly can – potentially for a year or more.

“We cannot afford to wait for improvements to our livelihood, like to our healthcare, childcare, parental leave, and our stipends, so we are acting like the union we’ve already built now to improve our lives as graduate workers here at WashU,” Duck-Mayr said.

SEIU Local 1 unites nearly 50,000 workers throughout the Midwest and has been working with graduate workers, college and university professors to give them a voice on the job, address the low compensation for their work, and ensure greater benefits and job security.

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