By a substantial margin, graduate students at the University of Minnesota have voted down a plan to create a union of teaching and research assistants.
Two-thirds of the 4,461 eligible graduate students at Minnesota's Twin Cities and Duluth campuses voted in the elections held last week. The union won the backing of 1,296 while 1,779 voted against it. State officials released the results Monday.
Minnesota graduate students have twice previously voted down a union, most recently by a comparable margin in 1999. The would-be union this time was called GradTRAC -- for Graduate Teaching and Research Assistants Coalition. It affiliated with the United Electrical, Radio and Machine Workers, a union that represents graduate students at the University of Iowa.
Carol Carrier, vice president of human resources at Minnesota, sent an e-mail message to graduate students shortly after the vote results were announced. "I know that many of you hold strong beliefs, both in favor of and opposed to union representation," she wrote. "Now that a decision has been made, I hope that we can set aside these differences and work together to ensure the brightest possible future."
Carrier said that graduate students were "vital" to the university and that Minnesota would "continue to do everything possible to ensure a flourishing graduate assistant program."
State officials released only total results, so it is not clear where the union drive lost support. But Truth About Unionization,  a group of graduate students who campaigned against GradTRAC, raised questions about union dues and about the political agenda of the national union with which graduate students would have affiliated. Truth About Unionization called the United Electrical, Radio and Machine Workers "a partisan and overtly political organization that does not reflect and cannot support or represent the many beliefs and stances of the student body that is the University of Minnesota graduate students."
Many of the leaders of the anti-union group are scientists -- a group that has been skeptical of union drives on a number of campuses.
Abu Jalal, president of the Graduate and Professional Student Assembly at Minnesota, said that graduate students are sharply divided on what they think of the university, based on their field of study. "There are many graduate students who think that their departments treat them very, very well, that they are doing a great job," he said. Those students are generally in science departments, he said, although the feeling extends to some other fields as well. Jalal, a Ph.D. student in finance, said he felt that way about his department.
Jalal's organization remained neutral on unionization. He said that he hoped administrators would recognize that students, especially in the humanities and some social sciences, "are suffering" and need more support.
GradTRAC issued a statement  noting that the union drive won more votes than any previous effort. "Our growing support sends a clear message to the administration that graduate employees endorse our program for quality, affordable health care; fair salaries; annual raises and full fee waiver; job security; value and respect for our work; fair treatment for all RA's and TA's regardless of citizenship."
The statement said that union organizers would be "evaluating the election results and questionable administration conduct during the election" and "announcing our plans for the future."