Letter to the Editor: Graduate students should embrace the recent NLRB ruling

The National Labor Relations Board recently ruled that graduate students at private universities are considered employees. This ruling categorizes graduate students as university workers, paving the path for us to form a union. This is a victory for graduate student workers at Northwestern!

We teach, take classes, conduct research, attend meetings and seminars, and more, depending on the field. We often work 40 hours a week (or more, in many cases). We receive tuition, a salary (stipend) to cover living expenses as well as health benefits. To me, this sounds like a job.

I have heard stories from other graduate student friends at Northwestern and around the country about excessive workloads, lack of clear expectations, inadequate compensation and poor adviser-student relationships. By forming our union with Service Employees International Union, we can win protection for graduate students in these areas and the ability to negotiate for additional benefits like child care and parking.

For those of us expecting to apply for post-docs or tenure-track positions after graduate school, we are all concerned about our image, how we portray ourselves to our advisers, faculty, peers and to the department as a whole. We want this image to be positive so that we can maintain good relationships and have our superiors speak highly of us when it is time for the next step in our careers. This can create a lot of internalized pressure. If something goes awry, we as graduate students do not have adequate channels for recourse. A union would allow us to maintain healthy work environments while in graduate school. Besides, we all know that graduate school is not easy by any means. It is intellectually challenging on a daily basis, and knowing how to multitask is a required skill. On top of that, we have to worry about financial concerns, excessive workloads outside of our jurisdiction and whether individuals in the department like us. We can do better.

Since the NLRB decision, fellow graduate student workers around the country are organizing to form unions in order to improve their graduate student experience. Now is the time to move forward here at NU and build the life we want to see for ourselves and for the graduate students who stand on our shoulders. Once we form our union with SEIU, we can ensure that our voices are heard and our hard work is valued.

Max Freeman is a graduate student at Northwestern.