NUGW union election takes place after years of grassroots organizing


Madison Bratley/Daily Senior Staffer

The Northwestern University Graduate Workers union election is taking place on Jan. 10 and 11.

Fiona Roach, Assistant Campus Editor

Northwestern University Graduate Workers kicked off its union election Tuesday, the first of two days of voting in Evanston and Chicago.

The election, moderated by the National Labor Relations Board, is the product of years of grassroots organizing by graduate workers. 

If a majority of voters vote “yes,” the NLRB will authorize the United Electrical, Radio and Machine Workers of America as NUGW’s collective bargaining body. All NU graduate workers are eligible to vote. More than 1,600 graduate students have publicly pledged to vote yes, according to NUGW. 

“We want to have recognition and status as a union of graduate workers, because then there are certain requirements for us to have a seat at the table and have Northwestern bargaining with us in good faith, instead of just picking and choosing when they want to listen to us,” said Emilie Lozier, a fifth-year Ph.D. candidate in chemistry and NUGW co-chair. 

NUGW’s efforts to unionize center on a five-point platform based on a survey sent out to all graduate students last spring. Lozier said the organization collected about 1900 responses. 

Goals include competitive pay, professional standards in labs and classrooms, power to address misconduct, comprehensive healthcare and financial support for international students. 

[Read The Daily’s investigation into University worker’s rights and unionization efforts]

“Graduate students are not only just students, but also employees performing valuable labor for the universities who employ them,” Lozier said. “We’re all people doing research, not just disembodied brains.”

NUGW chose to pursue a union election after the University refused to voluntarily recognize the organization’s union with UE in November. Lozier said this was not unexpected, as university administrations rarely recognize a union effort without an election.

Lozier and other NUGW members have been negotiating the terms of the election with the University and encouraging students to vote since.

But organizing among graduate workers has been ongoing since before NUGW was founded in 2016. 

“I get emotional when I think about the six years of work and all the folks who have gone out into the world to do amazing things (and) who spent so much of their time at Northwestern making sure this exact moment could happen,” said Sara Bowden, a fourth-year Ph.D. candidate in music theory and cognition and NUGW co-chair. “Every step of this process has been so affirming and validating that we need this union.”

Polling locations for the election include Mudd Science and Engineering Library and Parkes Hall in Evanston, and Robert H. Lurie Medical Research Center in Chicago. 

“We, the graduate workers of NUGW-UE, are thrilled that as a culmination of over eight years of relentless grassroots organizing we have finally created the opportunity for ourselves to take collective power in our workplace by voting UNION YES in the election,” NUGW said in a December email to The Daily.

NUGW will gain an official mechanism to bargain with the University if the unionization is authorized. The organization’s next steps would focus on negotiating a contract, Lozier said, similar to Northwestern University Library Workers following its union authorization.

NULW voted to unionize in December 2021 and is currently negotiating a contract with the University. Lozier said NUGW is looking forward to organizing a bargaining committee and would then send another survey to gauge graduate workers’ priorities. 

“We hope the message is clear that this isn’t just some little band of rabble-rousing, this is the strong majority of your workforce saying that they want a say,” Lozier said.

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