Students’ impassioned call for livable wages, health benefits and job security has led a smattering of college and university strikes across the country to catch wind and spread. So much so, Temple University’s recent strike—lasting over a month—cost the school president his seat.
Grad student labor organizing has spiked in recent years, according to William A. Herbert, executive director of the National Center for the Study of Collective Bargaining in Higher Education and the Professions. He believes that graduate students have increasingly assumed the brunt of teaching and research responsibilities compared to tenured faculty, and, according to one of his articles, the employment growth of graduate students was triple that of tenured faculty. Herbert cites the cost of graduate student labor to be a leading catalyst to this trend. It’s simply far cheaper for students to do it than tenured faculty.
Livable wages, health benefits, and job security name just a few reasons students are incentivized to join a union, but when schools cannot meet their demands, clashes have emerged in the forms of strikes.
Here are some of the biggest colleges across the country that have dealt with the rise of a student union or clash with one since the start of the school year. Also included are a pair of schools that are voting to unionize soon.
Union students on strike
University of Michigan
The University of Michigan Ann Arbor filed an unfair labor practice charge against the Graduate Employees’ Organization (GEO) for violating Michigan law and a contract between the two parties when GEO went on strike last Wednesday. The school issued a statement believing the best way to resolve their differences is the bargaining table. Students are on fighting for higher wages.
“The situation for grad workers is pretty dire. Many of us are struggling to pay rent,” said Amir Fleischmann, contract committee chair for GEO, according to WNEM Saginaw. “Four out of five of us are considered rent burden by head standards and our workers are simply not going to accept a contract that doesn’t meet our needs.”
Chicago State University
More than 70 union members of The Chicago State University chapter of the University Professionals of Illinois went on strike on Monday after failed negotiations that lasted months.
Temple’s graduate student union comprising 750 students went on strike on Jan. 31, the first one in the graduate union’s history. The school reacted by withdrawing tuition assistance and cutting health benefits to those who participated. The strike helped exacerbate campus crime rates and coupled with Temple’s decline in enrollment, a poll taken by Temple News discovered the school’s president, Jason Wingard, had a 92% negative approval rating. Wingard soon promptly resigned, unable to continue his mission amid community animosity.
University of California
The largest academic strike in U.S. labor history late last year—amassing a total of 48,000 employees—led to a deal that neither the school nor the school’s unions are satisfied with. While the unions did win a pay increase, many claim that it does not cover California’s steep living costs, which is partly why 38% of union students rejected UC’s offer. Updated accommodations include transportation subsidies and health benefits. One source projects UC’s deal with the unions will force them to fork out an additional $570 million, which may lead to reductions in graduate student enrollment.
The school has recently decided to retroactively dock the pay of those 48,000 workers. Expect another round of tough negotiations in 2024.
Students who won the vote to unionize
University of Chicago
In a landslide win in March, a graduate union comprising over 3,000 students won their bid to unionize. Key contract goals include increasing wages and benefits, according to the union’s campaign platform. 1,696 voted in favor of the union, compared to 155 who voted against it.
They will now begin contract negotiations.
Johns Hopkins University
In a landslide, 97% of students elected to unionize on the first of February. Their main points of negotiation are livable wages, improved support for international students, and safe workspaces, to name a few.
Of the 2,000 votes cast to form a bargaining unit for graduate students and researchers, 91% voted yes in January. The union Local 33-UNITE HERE was partly inspired by the recent decisions to unionize at other Ivy League schools such as Harvard and Columbia.
Protests erupted during the fall semester when the school refused to recognize a partnership between the Northwestern Graduate Student Workers Union (NUGW) and the nationally present United Electric, Radio and Machine Workers of America (UE). As a result, graduates successfully voted to unionize last month with a whopping 93.5% majority, citing a desire for higher stipends, health insurance, paid sick days, and PTO.
With expertise from UE, NUGW will soon begin formal negotiations with the school.