COLUMBIA — The Coalition of Graduate Workers sued the University of Missouri System Board of Curators on Wednesday, extending its months-long effort to be recognized by MU as a union in collective bargaining.
In its lawsuit filed in the 13th Circuit Court for Boone County, the coalition asked for a ruling directing the curators to acknowledge graduate student assistants as employees and collectively bargain with them or organize an MU-sanctioned election for graduate students to vote whether to unionize.
On April 18 and 19, in an election organized by the League of Women Voters, graduate students overwhelmingly approved the Coalition of Graduate Workers as their sole representative in collective bargaining. The measure was approved by 84 percent of the 795 students who voted — a turnout rate of about 30 percent.
According to Article 1 of the Missouri Constitution's Bill of Rights, employees have a right to organize and bargain collectively with their employer, but MU has repeatedly stated that graduate workers are not employees.
The goal of the lawsuit is to force the university to recognize graduate workers’ employee status, coalition outreach officer Joseph Moore said. “We want a legally binding contract that guarantees security and stability so nothing like the insurance crisis that happened at the beginning of last year can happen again."
The Coalition of Graduate Workers organized last fall in response to an announcement from MU that graduate student employees would no longer receive health insurance subsidies. The subsidies were restored, but the coalition continued its efforts to advocate for graduate students with assistantships.
On Dec. 21, the Coalition of Graduate Workers formally requested that the university hold an election for the nearly 2,600 graduate workers to vote on whether to unionize. A second request was filed on Jan. 6, according to the lawsuit. The university denied the request on Feb. 10.
On May 6, MU's attorneys notified the coalition’s lawyers that its request to be recognized as a union local would be denied. The coalition has affiliated itself with the Missouri National Education Association, a state education union.
In an email to the Missourian, MU spokesman Christian Basi cited increases to minimum stipends and continuation of health insurance subsidies for graduate student assistants as well as progress on reviving housing on the former site of University Village as "good-faith efforts" to address graduate students' concerns.
"It is our belief that unionizing is unnecessary for Mizzou’s graduate students," Basi wrote. "We believe that graduate students are fundamentally students and are part of our campus communities to learn."