Duke University graduate student workers have voted 1,000 to 131 to unionize, a huge reversal from a 2016–17 defeat.
The university originally said the new labor organization, representing more than 2,100 Ph.D. students with teaching or research appointments, would be the South’s first grad students’ union and Duke’s largest union. But Florida already has grad students' unions at a few universities. (Note: This paragraph has been corrected to reflect that Florida had grad workers' unions before Duke.)
Duke previously fought to stop this organization, but its provost said in a statement Tuesday that “We look forward to working with representatives from Southern Region Workers United on the shared goal of making the graduate experience at Duke the very best it can be.” The university didn’t return requests for further comment Wednesday.
Matthew Thomas, a fourth-year Ph.D. candidate in the English department, said the victorious Duke Graduate Students Union is affiliated with Southern Region Workers United and the Service Employees International Union. Thomas called it “sort of the product of a cumulative effort” of generations of Duke grad students who have moved on from the university.
Noting the lopsided vote margin, he said, “Having a strong mandate sets us up for success at the bargaining table, which we’re all very excited about moving in that direction.”
“We’re really proud of just being part of this larger union wave, but we’re especially proud of being an organizing force in the South,” he added.
Among the union’s demands will be at least a $40,000 annual stipend, up from $38,600, plus annual cost-of-living adjustments, Thomas said, alongside improved health-care support for grad students with dependents and third-party grievance procedures for gender- and race-based harassment and discrimination.