University Files Motion to Stay Unionization

If granted, the motion would postpone GSU’s upcoming election.

By Tyrone Lomax, News Editor

The University has submitted a motion to stay the upcoming Graduate Students United (GSU) unionization election, which is scheduled for October 17–18.

If granted, the stay motion would postpone the election, putting the ongoing case on hold.

The administration argues that the election—and all related proceedings—should be stayed in light of two case review requests the National Labor Relations Board (NLRB) is facing: one from Boston College, the other from the University.

While the stay motion targeted the upcoming election, the case review questioned the legitimacy of GSU’s original petition to unionize.

The University filed both its case review request and the stay motion on Friday, September 22.

For Chaz Lee, a seventh-year music history Ph.D. candidate and GSU departmental organizer, the administration’s motion was unsurprising.

“This is simply an extension of the administration’s position that graduate employees are exclusively students,” Lee said. “Obviously, we strongly disagree with that.”

“Ultimately, the focus is not on what the administration says, it’s on what we as graduate employees say,” Lee said. “[We’ll] continue to organize for a union so that we can have a strong collective voice as workers at this University, regardless of what any impending NLRB decision might be.”

In the stay motion, the University stressed that last year’s Columbia University verdict—which established graduate students as workers for the purposes of federal labor law—was wrong. That decision was the third time the board flipped its stance on the issue as presidents of different parties changed the majority on the board. A new Trump-era Republican majority raises the possibility, pointed towards in the University's motion, that the NLRB's stance will change again.

In the stay motion, the University suggested that a Columbia overturning is “probable,” since “the current Board has a different majority than when Columbia was decided.”

The Senate confirmed business lawyer William Emanuel to the NLRB on Monday, swinging the board to a 3–2 Republican majority. GSU members have expressed concerns that the Republican majority board will reverse the Columbia decision before a potentially delayed election.

In an e-mail sent to The Maroon, University spokesman Jeremy Manier expressed the administration’s concern that a union would affect “many areas of the university,” prompting its decision to undergo the appeals process.

“It is important to settle the outstanding legal issues before holding an election, in part to determine whether an election is permitted under the law in this case,” Manier wrote in the e-mail.

In response to the University’s motion, GSU representatives filed a motion in opposition on Tuesday, claiming the administration demonstrated, “no justification for a stay or impoundment of the ballots.”

Within the opposition motion, GSU representatives emphasized that the University waited 45 days after the election was ordered to file their request, suggesting that the situation was not as urgent as their motion suggested.

GSU also called the time delay a stalling tactic—one made obsolete by amendments the Board made in 2015 to improve the process of filing review requests in representation cases.

Moreover, the Board’s changing composition does not constitute staying the election, they countered.

Since the Board has changed compositions before, it’s an irrelevant fact to use in supporting a motion to stay, GSU reasoned.

GSU’s opposition concluded that neither of the University’s documents presented the “extraordinary circumstances” needed to justify a motion to stay, so the election should continue as planned.

Despite the administration’s and NLRB Chairman's expressed positions, Lee insisted on strengthening GSU’s membership.

“It’s been very gratifying to see the outpouring of support not just from our own members, but from our faculty supporters,” he said. “[It’s] outweighed any sense we might get from the administration that graduate unionization is not a cause supported on campus.”

Since GSU submitted their opposition, the administration filed another opposition, refuting the arguments made by GSU representatives.  

Also on Tuesday, the administration sent an e-mail to graduate students publicizing a new website, which displays “compiled information and resources” about unionization.

“Reasonable people can disagree about the issue of graduate student unionization, and it is vital to have a well-informed debate,” said Michele Rasmussen, Dean of Students, in the e-mail. “We hope this new resource will be valuable as you study how a union could affect graduate education at UChicago.”

The website’s data is credited to many outside sources, including government websites and peer institutions, but has received criticism on social media.

“The entire site, especially the bit downplaying wins made by graduate employees at NYU, is at least humorously ironic,” said Claudio Gonzales, a GSU departmental organizer.

Gonzales is a third-year Ph.D. candidate studying mathematics, and has been with GSU since August of last year.

“[The site] was written precisely by the people the University hired to stop us,” he said. “…clearly, this is an elitist attempt at implying unions are for a particular brand of worker, not for hoity-toity intellectuals like us.”