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October 6, 2016

GSU Votes to Stay With Union Affiliation

Graduate Students United (GSU) members voted to stay with their current union affiliation as they push for graduate student unionization. 

GSU members decided to remain affiliated with the American Federation of Teachers (AFT), the Illinois Federation of Teachers (IFT), and the American Association of University Professors (AAUP). The unions will contribute resources to GSU’s unionization efforts. 

“To be clear, this was not a vote on unionization…Instead, this was a decision for GSU members on whether we will pursue that goal [unionization] with AFT and AAUP, or with SEIU Local 73,” GSU stated in an e-mail. 

AFT won with 62.79 percent of votes in the referendum, which closed Tuesday at midnight. A total of 481 votes were cast by GSU members, with AFT receiving 302 votes and Service Employees International Union (SEIU) Local 73 receiving 179 votes, according to an e-mail sent out by the GSU organizing committee to its members after the referendum. 

“Tens of thousands of graduate students are already affiliated with the AFT, as momentum builds in our nationwide fight for them to be recognized as the higher education professionals they are,” AFT president Randi Weingarten said in a press release Thursday. “The AFT will be with them every step of the way.” 

In a separate vote that was held simultaneously, GSU members decided not to change their bylaws to make it easier to change their affiliation. The proposal would have allowed GSU to de-affiliate from the current union, AFT, with a simple majority instead of a two-thirds supermajority. While 53.18 percent voted in favor of changing the bylaws, they remained unchanged, since a supermajority is needed to change the bylaws.   

“Even if the bylaws had been changed, SEIU would have been short of its fifty percent plus one target. That being said, this was an important way through which to allow differing opinions to be heard—and I think this shows the fact that we are putting every part of the decision through a democratic process,” said GSU Departmental Organizer Claudio Sansone. 

Sansone also emphasized the intricacies of the unionization process and GSU’s careful approach in defining its terms. 

“Graduate students do not imply graduate workers. But the decision of the graduate worker’s union will obviously impact graduate students… If it says in your contract that you will teach, but you are not teaching right now, are you a graduate worker or a graduate student? So there are things like that that need to be sorted out,” Sansone said.   

GSU expects to hold the official vote to unionize in March or April of next year.  

“I think that’s what most people are hoping,” Sansone said, “that if we renew efforts on the card campaign today and continue working on these kinds of issues, we will have a functional proposition by then.” 

A card check is a method of organizing a labor union in which a majority of the members in the bargaining unit sign a card stating their desire to be represented by the union.  

"The GSU is now looking forward to the larger project of campaigning for a recognized union, and to that end the GSU is excited to continue building on the clear mandate of the referendum, to generate awareness on campus, and to build solidarity among graduate student workers—this is the time to get involved, the time to build a union from the ground up, a union that works for you," said Matthew Vanderpoel, member of the GSU Organizing Committee.  

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