U. of C. graduate students protest proposed NLRB rule change that provoked union’s exit from federal process

Graduate Students United members from the University of Chicago picket with unionized graduate students from Loyola and Northwestern universities in the Federal Building Plaza, 230 S. Dearborn St. (Photo by Aaron Gettinger)

Staff writer

Around 100 people in the University of Chicago, Northwestern and Loyola graduate students’ unions picketed outside the National Labor Relations Board’s office in the Loop today as the Republican-dominated agency proposes a rule change to strip graduate students of their right to collectively bargain.

The fear of that rule change moved Graduate Students United (GSU) to withdraw from the federal labor process in February 2018, after the union won a NLRB-certified vote of U. of C. graduate students the previous October.

GSU has unsuccessfully sought voluntary recognition since then and, in June, held a three-day strike.

“We’re here today because our rights as workers are under attack,” said GSU Co-President Claudio Gonzales to protesters outside of the Dirksen Federal Building, 219 S. Dearborn St., which houses the NLRB’s Chicago office. Chicago Teachers Union Local 1 President Jesse Sharkey also addressed the crowd, urging inter-union solidarity.

“I think that what is happing now with the National Labor Relations Board is very clear,” Sharkey said. “Is an agency, which is supposed to be a neutral force between bosses and workers, going to maintain its ability to be a neutral force? Because if it doesn’t, it’s something that labor needs to respond to.”

“We were told in the CTU that there were things that we couldn’t bargain about,” he continued. “All those things we did anyway. We now have in our contract and inside the schools, protections for homeless students. We now have in our contracts and in Chicago schools, five years of guaranteed social workers, nurses, case managers and other critical staff. We did not take the threats of the people in high places to be the end-all, final word.”

Speaking to reporters as protesters picketed, Gonzales said, “The path forward has always been what it is in the past: Talking with workers, figuring out what they think the next steps are and doing it together.”

Asked about potential changes in strategy given the lack of success GSU has experienced with the U. of C. administration, Gonzales answered, “These are exactly the decisions we are making together with the workers across the campus — including new people, people who have shown up for the first time on campus, who haven’t been in this situation before.”

Public comment on the NLRB rule change is open through Dec. 16.