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October 16, 2017

GSU Rallies Before Unionization Vote

Graduate Students United (GSU) held a rally on the steps of Levi Hall on Monday before voting on unionization opens on Tuesday.

Attendees chanted, sang, and held signs saying “Recognize Us Now” and “Research is Work.”

Most of the approximately 70 people who attended were graduate students, but the rally also included undergraduates and representatives of related organizations. In addition to GSU, representatives spoke from the Student Library Employee Union (SLEU) on campus and the Chicago Federation of Labor.

Carlos Ramirez-Rosa, alderman for Chicago’s 35th Ward and formerly the running mate of gubernatorial candidate Daniel Biss, also spoke at the rally in favor of a union.

“There was a time when elite institutions like this one were islands of privilege,” Ramirez-Rosa said. “[But] even though you’re educating the students on this campus, and even though you’re producing the research that this campus is mandated to create, you’re not respected for doing that work, and you’re treated like disposable laborers.”

Some GSU members have expressed concern that the voting procedures—which require photo IDs and assign grad students to particular polling locations by last name—could depress turnout. At the rally, however, members remained optimistic about their prospects.

“We’ve been in touch with our supporters and our members throughout this process as we’ve met with new information,” Daniela Palmer, a sixth-year graduate student in evolutionary biology told The Maroon. “We’re confident that their commitment will hopefully overcome any of these [issues].”

Many union supporters at the event expressed anger over perceived University attempts to suppress or influence the upcoming vote. Some referenced a University website, Know the Facts, which shares primarily anti-union information and opinions.

“Looking at the University’s statements and looking at Know the Facts, their position has been extremely one-sided,” said an assistant professor in the social sciences. “There could have been a more open and honest conversation.”

Ramirez-Rosa compared University president Robert Zimmer to President Donald Trump in his opposition to unions.

“President Zimmer, we see that when your students come together to form a union…you do the exact same thing as President Trump—you union-bust,” Ramirez-Rosa said. “You use your ill-gotten gains to fight the people.”

The administration has rejected any comparisons with Trump, highlighting the University’s nonpartisan values. “The University’s opposition to graduate student unionization has been consistent over time, and is based on concern for the nature and quality of graduate education,”  reads its statement on Know the Facts. 

The election, which will occur on Tuesday and Wednesday, is the culmination of 11 years of work for GSU.

“This is an incredibly exciting and rewarding moment for all of us,” said Chaz Lee, a seventh-year graduate student in music history. “I’m really proud to be standing with [other students] today and to go to the polls with them.”

Stop and Think, a UChicago group that is opposed to unionization, could not be reached for comment.

RELATED COVERAGE

Polls Open: What You Need to Know About Graduate Student Unionization

By Deepti Sailappan, Tyrone Lomax, and Spencer Dembner

Unionization supporters say that graduate students would be able to negotiate better pay and working conditions in a union, while the arguments against GSU generally focus on the burden of union dues.

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