Unionization Efforts at University of Minnesota


Jack Radomski, Editor

Graduate students at the University of Minnesota recently joined a nationwide effort of graduate students to unionize. The Graduate Labor Union–United Electrical collected over 2,800 union cards since February, when University of Minnesota graduate students publicly announced their plans.

The union obtained signatures from around 65 percent of graduate students, significantly exceeding the one-third threshold set by the Minnesota Bureau of Mediation Service to initiate a vote.

Graduate student organizer Logan Stapleton said in a press release “I think we’re coming together because we’re underpaid, our fees are too high, international students are unfairly burdened, and we don’t have fair grievance procedures.”

Graduate students hope to raise wages for workers and improve the benefits offered to them. Specifically, graduate students have asked the university to provide them with a living wage. Currently, the cost of living in Hennepin County is $37,000 per year, and graduate students state that they are paid significantly less than a living wage for their teaching and research duties, which they do in tandem with their studies.

The students have enumerated their full demands on their website. A summary list of their demands is also available on their website and in the list below.

  1. Higher Pay and Lower Fees
  2. Comprehensive Benefits
  3. Transparency and Security On The Job
  4. Anti-Discrimination, Anti-Harassment, and Employment Grievance Procedures
  5. Increased Support for International Graduate Workers
  6. Justice for Minnesota Communities

Another specific concern of the graduate student union is about treatment of international students. The union mentions an “unfair and discriminatory” international students fee on their website and their work to guarantee a living wage for international students because U.S. law prohibits international students from being paid more than 20 hours per week during the school year.

The graduate students’ website states their hopes for the union, “The University of Minnesota Graduate Labor Union – United Electrical will address the needs of graduate student workers, who are the backbone of the University’s education and research mission.”

The website also offered testimonials of graduate students stating why they want to unionize, features summaries of initiatives of graduate students at other universities across the country who have succeeded in their unionization efforts, and issue campaigns of other efforts to improve campus features such as transportation.

This trend towards higher education unionization started to gain traction during the COVID-19 pandemic, as many Americans struggled to pay bills due to the inflation and other economic difficulties. However, this is not the first time higher education unionization has been attempted at the University of Minnesota.

Unionization efforts on campus have failed in 1974, 1990, 1999, 2005, and 2012.

The 2012 effort failed, with 62 percent of those who voted in the election voted against the formation of the union. The vote was the end result of over two years of organizing by graduate student leaders.

2023 could be the year that the unionization efforts succeed, as student support seems higher than ever. Over 200 students representing different areas of graduate studies have led the charge and fellow Big Ten schools such as University of Iowa, University of Michigan, and Michigan State have also gained national attention for their efforts to unionize. These Big Ten schools have been successful in their efforts and have improved graduate student benefits and compensation.

The university has stated that they are willingly to negotiate with graduate students and will reexamine certain policies that impact the students.

Regardless of the result of the vote, the graduate student organizers efforts certainly have raised awareness around graduate student compensation and benefits and their overall wellbeing on campus.

To follow along with the graduate labor union’s continued efforts, follow their Twitter account or sign up for their newsletter.