Northwestern refuses to voluntarily recognize graduate workers union, NUGW to pursue union election in coming days


Daily file photo by Seeger Gray

Workers march past Deering Library on Nov. 11. Northwestern University Graduate Workers plans to file with the National Labor Relations Board in the coming days.

Isabel Funk and Maia Pandey

Northwestern will not voluntarily recognize the NU Graduate Workers union with the United Electrical, Radio and Machine Workers of America until graduate students conduct a union election, Provost Kathleen Hagerty told NUGW on Monday.

Last Thursday, graduate workers marched across campus, delivering a letter to Hagerty demanding the University voluntarily recognize its union by 5 p.m. on Monday. In a letter to the workers’ organizing committee, Hagerty said NU will not recognize UE as “the students’ exclusive agent” before graduate workers hold a secret ballot election through the National Labor Relations Board.

Hagerty said NLRB elections have been a “tried-and-true method” to determine union representation for decades.

“Northwestern believes that the fairest and most reliable way to determine whether a majority wants union representation is a secret ballot election,” Hagerty said in the letter. “This is the only way to allow every eligible student who wants to participate in the process to actually do so.”

The University looks forward to engaging in a dialogue with the students, contingent on UE conducting an election with workers, Hagerty said.

NUGW launched its official union drive last month, garnering more than 2,000 union card signatures — a majority of the 3,500 graduate students enrolled as of fall 2022. At last week’s march, the group announced its intention to file with NLRB with or without University support. 

NUGW co-Chair Emilie Lozier told The Daily workers plan to file for a union election through the NLRB in the coming days.

“We are very confident in the depth of our organizing and the mandate that the supermajority of graduate workers have put out calling for the union,” Lozier said. “Either way, we’re expecting the same outcome in the end, which is a union of graduate workers.”

After filing with the NLRB, the group will assemble its bargaining unit and then hold its union election. Lozier, a fifth-year chemistry Ph.D. candidate, said the timeline of the election will be dependent on the NLRB, though NUGW is “wasting no time” in pushing for the vote.

She said the group looks forward to bargaining for workplace improvements, including competitive pay and comprehensive health care

“(This) will take us on par with our peer institutions and allow us to pursue this world class graduate education that we are expecting to get at Northwestern,” Lozier said. “People want to move forward, and so we want to respect that wish of graduate workers and do everything possible to get that seat at the table.”

In a Monday email to its members after the University decision, NUGW-UE’s organizing committee encouraged graduate workers to keep signing union cards ahead of the election and organizing among peers. 

It also named international student support, sustainable transportation options and professional standards for labs and classrooms as additional bargaining goals.

“We call on Northwestern to not influence this democratic process and to respect the right of graduate workers at Northwestern to choose their own union,” the email said.

Email: [email protected]

Twitter: @isabeldfunk

Email: [email protected]

Twitter: @maiapandey

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