Tuesday, March 20, 2012
Originally published in the Minnesota Daily:
Unions strengthen the relationship between workers and faculty.
By Keith Ellison, U.S. Representative, Minnesota District 5
March 20, 2012
University of Minnesota graduate assistants have been working to gain the right to bargain collectively since 1991. Looking at this week’s unionization vote, here’s my take on why graduate assistants will be better off with a union. By coming together to form a union, graduate assistants will have a stronger voice when it comes to working conditions, wages and benefits. Right now, University administrators can change pay, health care benefits and working conditions without consultation. With a union, graduate assistants would be able to negotiate those things.
Need an example? Look no further than to the University of Wisconsin-Madison, where graduate assistants have been collectively bargaining for decades. In fact, professor Richard McGehee, director of graduate studies for the University’s School of Mathematics, has said that his faculty friends at UW-Madison believe their graduate assistant union helps strengthen the relationship between workers and faculty.
Some graduate assistants believe that their wages are already good, so why join a union? Let’s remember that University graduate assistant pay is considered above average largely because of organized labor’s strong presence on campus. However, these wages and other working conditions are not protected by a contract. Employees in Minnesota, whether in a union or not, benefit from organized labor.
Unions paved the way to the middle class for millions of American workers and pioneered benefits such as paid health care and pensions. On average, employees in pro-labor states make on average $5,500 more than residents in anti-labor states. I’m proud to encourage University graduate assistants to vote in favor of union certification this week so they can have a stronger voice when advocating for working conditions, wages and benefits.