Last Wednesday marked a significant milestone as the National Labor Relations Board officially certified a union for Duke University Ph.D. student workers.
This victory came after years of efforts by Duke graduate students to unionize, despite legal challenges from the university, which is located in a right-to-work state.
The students faced the possibility that the NLRB, under Donald Trump-appointed members, would set a precedent against their unionization efforts.
The vote results were overwhelmingly in favor of union representation, with 1,000 votes in favor and 131 against, and Duke University decided not to challenge the outcome.
Duke university achieves milestone in graduate worker unionization
Alec Gallimore, Duke’s provost, expressed the university’s focus on the collective bargaining process, aiming for a positive experience for graduate students.
This achievement makes Duke the first certified graduate worker union at a private university in the southern United States, and it is hoped that this success will inspire similar efforts at other private institutions in the region.
Notably, this victory reflects a broader trend of student worker unionization across the United States, with a notable increase in the number of bargaining units formed, particularly among graduate student workers.
The surge in student worker unionization has brought attention to issues such as social justice, working conditions exacerbated by the COVID-19 pandemic, and increased support for unions among young adults.
It has also seen the emergence of new major players in the labor movement, including the United Electrical, Radio and Machine Workers of America (UE), which has expanded its representation of graduate employees.
Furthermore, the movement has witnessed student worker strikes and work stoppages, with an increase in multi-unit strikes that involve various bargaining units.
These developments signal a growing momentum in student worker activism and labor organizing within the higher education sector.