Graduate students at the University of Missouri have voted in favor of the Coalition of Graduate Workers as their official collective bargaining agent.
This movement toward unionization began months ago, in August 2015, when MU unexpectedly announced it would be eliminating health insurance subsides for graduate students.
A number of protests on campus and a widespread walkout of classes followed the announced, which resulted in the University recanting and reinstating health insurance subsidies. But MU graduate students began asking the university to consider other parts of the graduate student experience – stipends, childcare, living and health insurance – and within weeks of the University’s original announcement regarding health insurance a union effort began.
This week, following a two-day election managed by the League of Women Voters, the Collation of Graduate workers won a decisive victory - nearly 800 of MU’s estimated 2,600 eligible graduate student workers voted. 668 votes in favor of the union and 127 votes against.
At a gathering on Tuesday evening, Connor Lewis, a co-chair of the Coalition of Graduate Workers announced the election results: “There were just under 30 percent of the unit [total eligible voters] voted and we won by 84 percent.”
To celebrate the victory, fellow co-chair Eric Scott brought out a Coalition of Graduate Workers cake that he said has been in his freezer “since Christmas.” He called the election results a “powerful margin.”
“To have this vindication at the end of it um it makes me feel great, and I can only hope that the end result of it is that the University looks at this result and understands that this is what is best for everyone,” Scott said. “For them, for us and for all of the undergraduate students at the university of Missouri as well. But for right now, I just want to be happy. This is one of the three or four things in my life I am most proud of.”
It remains unclear if the university will recognize the results of this election, but Joseph Moore, the interim outreach officer for the Coalition of Graduate Workers said “we expect that they will. We hope that they will.”
“Obviously, the onus now is on the university to recognize the results of this democratic election,” Moore said. “Going forward we’re going to be doing things like electing representatives to our bargaining team, electing representatives to our coordinating committee, which is the executive body of the union, as well as the representative assembly, which is the legislative body of the union. So building the union and putting the plans in place for eventually starting the bargaining process. “
Earlier this month, Interim MU Chancellor Hank Foley sent out an email to graduate students that said: “any vote to unionize at this time cannot be considered binding or recognized by the university.”
“Should graduate student leaders decide to proceed with such a vote at this time despite the lack of consultation with MU administration, and should such a vote indicate that graduate students would like to pursue a union,” Foley wrote. “University leadership will begin an educational campaign to ensure that all graduate students impacted by this decision will be knowledgeable about what this means at the University of Missouri.”
The Coalition of Graduate Workers is currently working alongside the Missouri National Education Association.