Graduate students’ strike ends after 3 days

Graduate Students United members picketing under Cobb Gate at the Main Quad on Wednesday; GSU members voted later Wednesday to conclude the three-day strike. (Photo by Mrinalini Pandey)

Staff writer

Members of Graduate Students United at the University of Chicago voted to end the union’s three-day strike Wednesday.

Provost Daniel Diermeier emailed the U. of C. on Thursday morning, saying that unionization would “fundamentally alter” the U. of C.’s “decentralized, faculty-led approach to graduate education” and “would not address many of the critical concerns students and faculty have identified, and could put current progress at risk.”

In a statement, member Katie Nolan called the stroke “one of the largest labor actions to take place on this campus in recent memory, and the first of this kind for this union.”

“We successfully picketed campus for three days, demonstrating how much the University relies upon our labor, talking with scores of people across the university community about our campaign for recognition,” Nolan said. “Alumni Weekend is this weekend, and we look forward to talking to more people about the importance of recognizing the graduate labor that makes this campus run.”

Since Monday morning, teaching and research assistants picketed outside of U. of C. academic buildings, holding rallies every evening on the Main Quad outside of Levi Hall, 5801 S. Ellis Ave., the U. of C.’s main administration building, as some faculty members cancelled classes or held them off campus.

Irving Birkner, associate director of the school’s Committee on Southern Asian Studies, commented that Kelly Hall, 5848 S. University Ave., had been “completely dead” over the course of the strike. “It almost feels like it’s already summer,” he said.

Diermeier noted that GSU is not a legally certified union, as it withdrew from the National Labor Relations Board process after winning a 1,103-479 vote the previous year for fears that Republican appointees would revoke the ability of graduate students at private post-secondary institutions to unionize.

“Accordingly, the University is not required to recognize a group or vote,” Diermeier wrote. He noted that 1,400 U. of C. employees are represented by 8 unions, but he said the administration believes “strongly that doctoral education is most impactful when faculty work directly with students, without a third party mediating and defining those relationships.”

The U. of C. Graduate Council and Student Government executives as well as Alds. Leslie Hairston (5th), Jeanette Taylor (20th) and State Sen. Robert Peters (D-13th) have expressed support for GSU. On Facebook, GSU noted support from “students … alumni, nurses, delivery truck drivers, community members, elected officials and unions from Chicago and across the country.”

Hairston expressed support for GSU in a Tuesday interview, adding that she was unable to attend the Monday rally during which Taylor and Peters spoke because she only received word about it a few hours beforehand. “I think the University is fully aware of what is going on. This isn’t the first time this has happened.”

GSU said they have “shown the University, the world and ourselves what we are capable of as a union, and how fundamentally the university depends on our work” in their Facebook statement. “While we will be back at work tomorrow, our campaign for recognition continues, fundamentally transformed and strengthened by the past three days.”