In an official announcement to the University of Chicago community on Friday, Provost Ka Yee C. Lee congratulated the university’s graduate students on their successful unionization vote. She detailed the unionization process and expressed gratitude to the 1,851 eligible graduate students who voted.
Lee’s statement represents an about-face for the university, which had controversially opposed the unionization drive. According to The Chicago Maroon, the university could have objected to the administration of the election or challenged graduate students’ right to unionize.
The National Labor Relations Board (NLRB) counted 1,696 uncontested votes in favor of unionization and 155 votes against, announcing the results on Thursday, March 16.
Thus, in her email, Lee announced that “the NLRB is expected to certify GSU-UE [Graduate Student United–United Electrical, Radio and Machine Workers of America] as the exclusive representative for the purpose of collective bargaining for eligible UChicago graduate students.”
Past Is Not Prologue
A piece from the Thinker’s David Nehlsen reports on the 92% vote in favor of unionization and recounts that the university did not recognize GSU’s previous 2017 attempt at unionization. According to the GSU’s website in 2017:
The University refused to recognize the results of our election, hoping that a conservative National Labor Relations Board (NLRB) dominated by Trump appointees would overturn the legal ruling that allowed graduate workers at private universities to unionize. . . With Biden appointees holding a majority on the NLRB as of fall 2021, GSU is now pursuing legal union recognition.
With the passage of the unionization referendum, the provost’s message stated that “the University will bargain in good faith with GSU-UE with the goal of supporting the continued academic success of all graduate students.”
However, Nehlsen’s article highlighted that it “is unknown what the contract will look like or when negotiations will begin and conclude.”
The university offered little clarification in the provost’s announcement, only stating that “[p]rogress on contract negotiation will be shared on an ongoing basis.”