The Northwestern Graduate Workers union (NUGW) won the election to unionize with 93.5% voting in favor after two days of open polls in Chicago and Evanston. They will now unionize with United Electric, Radio and Machine Workers of America (UE), a democratic national union which represents workers in private and public sectors and from a variety of job fields across the United States. The electoral success means that the union is now legally recognized by Northwestern, requiring the University to engage in a negotiation process over the students’ demands. UE’s status as a national union provides resources, expertise and strategies to help NUGW become successful in its negotiations.
All graduate workers who are paid by Northwestern for teaching, researching or any other labor are legally considered employees and are therefore eligible to join NUGW.
The University refused to recognize the NUGW union with UE, which led to graduate students protesting around campus last fall demanding the University to accept this union. After months of campaigns, petitions and organizing committees, elections took place and the results went in favor of graduate students.
Graduate students involved in union efforts are happy their hard work has paid off and are excited to see how the union will evolve after the election.
“It's really exciting to see not only the election succeed, but succeed to such a big margin, with almost 94% ‘yes’ votes,” Political Science Department Organizer for NUGW Lauren Baker said. “The elections really bolstered my faith in people.”
Co-chair of NUGW Sara Bowden was at the ballot count and expressed her excitement for a new future. They are hopeful that after winning the election, graduate workers will not be ignored by the University and their working policies will finally change.
“We got a sense of the results just because we could see how many boxes of ‘yes’ votes were there,” Bowden said. “I know how hard all of our organizers in our campaign worked for this and fought for this for years.”
Graduate workers are sharing their excitement about the election results online.
NUGW is getting ready for its next steps, starting with bargaining. Bowden said NUGW will take some time to divide into committees, and all of them — including a bargaining committee — should be inclusive and reflective to the values of the union.
Afterward, the bargaining team will meet with Northwestern and negotiate different aspects to change in graduate workers’ contracts. Those aspects include increased stipends and health insurance benefits; guaranteed protection in workplaces and paid sick days; and time off.
Media, Technology and Society program Organizer for NUGW Callie Kalny said she believes increasing pay is one of the most important issues the union should address.
“Our stipends do not currently reflect the cost of living in Chicago or Evanston, and we’re behind other sister and peer institutions in terms of what our stipends are,” Kalny said.
Kalny shared her experience teaching a public-speaking course to undergraduate students at Northwestern during the school year. She said that not being compensated beyond her stipend has become an issue.
“Over the summer, if you teach public speaking as a graduate instructor you get paid close to $4,000 for a condensed six-week version of the course,” Kalny said. “Over the academic year, we just get our stipend, which comes out to a lot less per month. So, there's a big pay discrepancy in how we’re compensated for the same job.”
However, graduate workers are optimistic and look forward to experiencing change after winning the vote to unionize.
“We are going to continue to build our culture,” Bowden said. “Clearly, so many people care about this, so we're just excited to expand and grow as we're getting ready for our next steps.”
Thumbnail courtesy of Northwestern University Graduate Workers (NUGW).
Editor's note: A previous version of the article referred to NUGW Co-Chair Sara Bowden with she/her pronouns. Bowden uses they/them pronouns, and so we have corrected the article to reflect their identity. NBN regrets the error.