University of Minnesota graduate students announce union drive

It’s the sixth unionization effort by graduate students at the U since 1974

By: - February 20, 2023 1:40 pm

Photo courtesy of the University of Minnesota.

Graduate students at the University of Minnesota announced on Monday an effort to unionize to negotiate for higher wages, fewer fees, and protection against workplace abuses.

“Graduate workers at UMN need a change. We face low pay and high student fees. Work expectations are unclear and when issues arise there is little to no support for graduate workers,” said Phoebe Keyes, a third-year engineering graduate worker, in a statement.

Graduate school workers earn less than $28,000 a year on average, according to university data shared by the union effort leaders. The cost of living is $37,025 per year for a single adult in Hennepin County, where most graduate student workers live, according to state data.

The union drive comes amid a surge in labor organizing, from grocery stores to hospitals to university campuses.

Graduate student workers want to unionize with the United Electrical, Radio and Machine Workers of America union, which recently successfully organized graduate students at Northwestern University and Johns Hopkins University.

Representatives from the U’s Graduate Labor Union say they will collect union cards from fellow student workers in the coming weeks before filing for a union election with the Minnesota Bureau of Mediation Services. They need to collect signatures from at least 30% of the university’s roughly 4,400 graduate student at its Twin Cities and Duluth campuses.

The university did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

The union drive by graduate students isn’t the first at the University of Minnesota. Graduate students gathered signatures to hold a union election five times since 1974 — only to vote against unionizing each time.

In 2012, graduate students at the U voted against unionizing, with 62% voting “no,” according to the Minnesota Daily. In 2005, graduate students voted against unionizing by a similar margin.

Graduate students also rejected unionizing by wider margins in 1974, 1990 and 1999.

Our stories may be republished online or in print under Creative Commons license CC BY-NC-ND 4.0. We ask that you edit only for style or to shorten, provide proper attribution and link to our web site. Please see our republishing guidelines for use of photos and graphics.

Max Nesterak
Max Nesterak

Max Nesterak is the deputy editor of the Reformer and reports on labor and housing. Previously, he was an associate producer for Minnesota Public Radio after a stint at NPR. He also co-founded the Behavioral Scientist and was a Fulbright Scholar to Berlin, Germany.