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Majority of graduate students have signed union cards nine days after rally

Rally for graduate students outside Robertson Hall
Louisa Gheorghita / The Daily Princetonian

A majority of the University’s more than 3,000 graduate students have signed union cards, according to Princeton Graduate Students United (PGSU)


This news comes as over 150 graduate students, undergraduates, and post-graduate fellows rallied together with PGSU on Wednesday, Feb. 15 to demand fair wages and more affordable housing from the University. It also comes after the Graduate Student Government (GSG) voted to release a message of support for PGSU, at their meeting on Tuesday, Feb. 21. The GSG serves as the primary representative body for the University’s graduate students. 

According to union representative Aditi Rao, at least 30 percent of Princeton graduate students need to sign a union card in order for PGSU to file for a union election with the National Labor Relations Board (NLRB). Today’s announcement puts the PGSU well past that threshold. 

Before the GSG voted, Rao claimed that they had already passed the 30 percent threshold, but were aiming higher. “We really want it to be a super majority so we know for ourselves that the vast majority of students at this university support a union,” Rao told the body.

According to the NLRB website, after over 30 percent of workers support the election petition, an NLRB agent will verify that an election in the “particular workgroup” is appropriate, and then “take steps to set the time, date, and place of a secret-ballot election. Elections may be in-person, by mail, or a combination of both.”


The NLRB website reads that “[i]f the union receives a majority of the votes cast at the election, the NLRB will certify the union as your exclusive collective-bargaining representative.” Then, employers must bargain “in good faith” over working conditions.

Outside of NLRB-conducted elections, federal law provides employees another way to choose a representative. Workers may “persuade an employer to voluntarily recognize a union after showing majority support by signed authorization cards or other means.” However, those agreements are made outside the NLRB process. If voluntary recognition occurs, the employer, the union, or both may notify the NLRB Regional Office that voluntary recognition has been granted.

PGSU representative Tim Alberdingk Thijm told The Daily Princetonian that today’s news “is a really strong and exciting demonstration of the fact that Princeton grads know that a union will make a real difference in our lives here and help our university continue to attract generational talent and produce world-class research.” 

According to a Feb. 24 email obtained by the ‘Prince,’ The PGSU-United Electric, Radio, and Machine Workers of America (UE) organizing committee wrote to all Princeton graduate workers, “[t]ogether, we can achieve the best conditions for research and higher standards for graduate education across the country.” Through the union, graduate workers hope to secure fair and effective grievance procedures, improved international student support, better healthcare and funded childcare, affordable housing through graduation, guaranteed pay raises and contingency funds, and clear and safe work standards.

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Graduate students formed the PGSU in 2016 to serve as a vehicle for grad students working to secure contractual benefits, including guaranteed housing and improved health insurance, and to create an equitable and safe work environment.

There has been a recent wave of graduate student unionization movements across the United States, with Yale unionizing just last month. Also last month, 10,000 University of Chicago, Northwestern University, and Johns Hopkins University graduate student workers voted to unionize. The largest higher-education strike in history occurred this past December, with 48,000 University of California employees, including 36,000 graduate students, walking out for six weeks to demand higher base pay, childcare subsidies, and safer working conditions.

When graduate workers follow a link on the PGSU website to obtain a union card, the website reads, “I hereby request and accept membership in the United Electrical, Radio and Machine Workers of America (UE), and authorize it to represent me, and in my behalf to negotiate and conclude all agreements as to hours of labor, wages, and all other conditions of employment.”

“We are looking forward to talking to more grads in the coming weeks and encourage everyone to talk to their colleagues, sign their union cards, and help us win grad worker power for all of us here at Princeton,” Alberdingk Thijm wrote.

University Spokesperson Michael Hotchkiss declined a request for comment.

This piece is breaking and will be updated as more information becomes available.

Olivia Sanchez is a News contributor for the ‘Prince.’

Lia Opperman is an associate News editor for the ‘Prince.’

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