COLUMBIA — MU doctoral student Jesse Hoff had been waiting a while to vote. At 8 a.m. Monday, he finally got the chance.
Hoff, along with about 84 percent of the 795 MU graduate student workers who voted, were in favor of allowing the Coalition of Graduate Workers, an affiliate of the Missouri National Education Association, to exclusively represent MU graduate workers in collective bargaining. The vote was conducted Monday and Tuesday by the League of Women Voters, a neutral third party.
"We're thrilled, we're gratified. It's the democratic will of grad student employees," said Joseph Moore, member of the Coalition of Graduate Workers organizing committee.
A simple majority was enough to take the next step toward unionization, but workers will still have to wait for university administration to recognize them before they can negotiate.
And, it might take a bit of convincing.
In an email to the Graduate Professional Council on April 8, MU Interim Chancellor Hank Foley wrote, "any vote to unionize at this time cannot be considered binding or recognized by the university," according to previous Missourian reporting.
Missouri law states employees have the right to collectively bargain and form a union, but MU has never officially classified graduate students as employees — even though the Graduate Professional Council passed a resolution in February reaffirming graduate students' rights as employees.
At the UM System Board of Curators meeting April 15, UM System Interim President Mike Middleton said, "The problem is that in the state of Missouri it's not clear that students have a right to collectively bargain."
Moore was confident the university would recognize the results of the election. He said lawyers were prepared to file a lawsuit if they didn't, but he hoped it wouldn't get to that point.
"I don't see how they couldn't (recognize the union)," he said.
Graduate workers formed the Forum of Graduate Rights after MU threatened to end graduate workers' subsidized health insurance in August, according to the organization's website. The Coalition of Graduate Workers branched out of that group with the sole intent of unionizing.
While MU reinstated health insurance subsidies for the next school year, it has not fully met the forum's other demands for employed graduate students released after the health insurance cuts protest. They include:
- A livable wage.
- Full tuition wavers.
- Waived course fees.
- More affordable university housing.
- Affordable childcare and maternity and paternity leave.
- MU administrative transparency and graduate student input.
- An increase in diverse faculty and students and an administrative investment in diversity recruitment and retention.
Since the vote has been approved, the coalition should be able to represent graduate students in contract and insurance negotiations as well as other employment issues that may arise, according to the coalition's website. Collective bargaining would also mean that the coalition could advocate for the forum's demands.
Hoff said that graduate students should be able to have a say in changes regarding graduate student employees, particularly working conditions.
"It makes all the sense in the world to me," he said.
Graduate students are not required to join the union. Students who do choose to join will have to pay the monthly union fee. The Missouri National Education Association general membership fee is $9, but local dues have yet to be determined, according to the coalition's website.
Supervising editor is Katie Kull.