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Don't rush the vote

The graduate student body recently held a unionization meeting on Oct. 13, during which they provided information and opinions regarding whether to affiliate with the American Federation of Teachers or the Service Employees International Union, two national unions. At the meeting, the graduate student body voted against a proposal to move forward a vote that had previously been planned to occur on Oct. 18. They did so quite rightfully, in my opinion, considering that most graduate students only learned about the existence of a unionization committee a few days before the informational session, and many did not even know then. While I acknowledge and sympathize with a desire on the part of Princeton Graduate Students United to keep a low profile and guard against the danger of intervention or retribution on the part of a hypothetical wrathful administration, the end result of these efforts was a completely opaque process.


When I first heard about the amicus brief that the University filed (together with several other Ivies, Stanford, and MIT) with the National Labor Relations Board last spring, I immediately started talking about unionization but was unable to take action as I was studying for my preliminary exams. I was away for most of the summer, and when I returned a few weeks before classes started, I began hearing rumors about a group of students discussing unionization but was utterly unable to figure out when or where they met; as it turns out, there was a Facebook group created at the end of August, but it was understandably set to private. Awareness of and membership in this group seemed to spread primarily through word-of-mouth.

Thursday evening’s meeting was the first time I got a concrete time and date for a place to involve myself in union matters — at a meeting that one of PGSU’s founding members tried to turn into a vote! Just as opaque, if not more so, is the manner in which it was decided to definitively vote on joining one of two possible unions. There are at least two other major unions, the United Automobile Workers and UNITE HERE, that have graduate student members in the United States, and when I asked how the group had come to the decision of choosing between their two specific options, I was told that it was because representatives of those two unions had approached us through personal connections between their members and members of PGSU. Contrast this with the Graduate Student Government charging an officer with the responsibility to research and investigate all possibilities; that officer, in fact, spoke briefly at the meeting, and indeed seemed better versed on the details of the various unions than the meeting’s organizers.

This begs the following questions: Why do these students feel that they can represent the graduate student body at Princeton, and why do they want to push through the vote so quickly?

The answer to the first is not entirely clear, as it’s certainly the case that the meeting of Oct. 13 was not a typical cross-section of the grad student body. For example, when an attendant asked for a brief survey, and members researching humanities, social sciences, natural sciences, and engineering raised their hands in turn, it was revealed that the vast majority of the 70-odd attendees were humanities students; yet, those departments collectively make up 22 percent of the PhD student population. And that’s without even touching on the sheer ridiculousness of having 70-odd students make a decision that would affect 2,400. While I applaud the initiative of any group of concerned citizens willing to take it upon themselves to organize such a movement for the common good, I have deep apprehensions about what appears to be a group taking unilateral action that could have deep implications for all possible union-related activity going forward. For example, say that this group invites one of the two unions in question to come campaign here; what if the student body as a whole later decides they prefer a different union? Would it be easy, or even possible, to “switch over”? Are the graduate students at large aware of what it would mean to bring in an external campaign manager? I certainly am not, and I feel that I’ve done more to educate myself on the matter than most.

Which brings me to my main issue with PSGU and their current actions: it’s all happening far too fast. While the GSG (a body that has representatives from 36 of the 41 academic departments and graduate programs) is forbidden from taking sides in any sort of labor relations issue, they have taken it upon themselves to set up a fact-finding mission, and have set forth a plan to organize a series of town halls to allow for open debate, with a tentative schedule of assembling facts by mid-November and organizing a vote on union affiliation before the end of the semester. Considering the complete lack of negative action or even pressure on the part of the university administration, I personally think that even that time table might be faster than is necessary, but it would certainly give most students enough time to receive the pertinent information, pursue independent research if they feel the need, and make an intelligent, informed, and considered decision. As it stands, PGSU has given the student body at large roughly a week to educate and inform themselves, assuming that they weren’t at a conference, or doing field work, or locked up in a room studying for generals.

And so, in the absence of a decision by PGSU to delay their vote — not to cancel it, but simply to push it back a few weeks so that we, the students, can figure out what is going on — I call upon my fellow students to submit a vote of “No Vote” on Monday or Tuesday, indicating that they don’t want to be rushed into a decision about which they can’t possibly be adequately informed.


Amit Halevi GS is in the program in applied and computational mathematics, and comes from Boulder C.O. He can be reached at

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