GSU Submits Letter Requesting Union Recognition by University

This push for recognition, which will be GSU’s second, comes at a moment of heightened campus labor activism across the country.


GSU protesters picket outside Harper Library.

By Nikhil Jaiswal

At 9 a.m. on Wednesday November 16, members of UChicago Graduate Student’s United – United Electrical Workers (GSU-UE) delivered a letter asking the University to voluntarily recognize them as a Union representing graduate student workers across all departments at the University of Chicago.

The letter, addressed to University President Paul Alivisatos, Provost Ka Yee C. Lee, and the University’s Board of Trustees, requests that the University respond to GSU-UE’s request for voluntary recognition by 5 p.m. on Tuesday, November 29, 2022.

Natalie Farrell, a graduate student in the music department and GSU-UE’s General Secretary, said that the Union has received signed Union cards from most graduate workers at UChicago.

Union cards, which are signed by workers who wish to be represented by a union, are collected by unions and can be used to demonstrate to an employer that a majority or substantial number of employees wish to be in a union. This process of unionization is called voluntary recognition.

According to Valay Agarawal, a graduate student in the chemistry department and GSU-UE’s Communications Secretary, “[GSU-UE members] have put in thousands of hours already in organizing and talking to people. We hope that we don’t have to do it all over again for an election, but we’d be happy to do it.”

If at least 30 percent of employees have signed union cards and an employer refuses to voluntarily recognize a union, the National Labor Relations Board (NLRB), the federal body which adjudicates labor disputes, will conduct an election. If most employees vote to form a union, the NLRB will certify the Union and the employer will be required to recognize it.

GSU-UE’s renewed push for recognition comes at a moment of heightened campus labor activism across the country. Graduate students at Yale University and Northwestern University are gearing up for recognition elections on their own campuses while over 40,000 unionized graduate workers across the University of California system are striking for a new contract.

GSU, which recently affiliated with the United Electrical, Radio and Machine Workers of America, has a history of fighting for recognition from the University. This current push would be the Union’s second; and critically, it would be its first under a Democratically controlled NLRB.

The Union withdrew its previous NLRB petition for recognition in 2018 due to fears that a Republican-controlled NLRB would use the case to reverse NLRB precedent in a way that could prevent graduate student unions across the country.

In a statement to The Maroon, the University said, “We appreciate our students’ efforts to enhance the graduate student experience at UChicago. The University will provide a response to GSU-UE by their requested deadline.”

“All the steps that led up to creating this voluntary letter have been extraordinarily unifying across departments on campus,” Farrell said. “One way or another, we’re ready to join the ranks of the dozens and dozens of peer institutions that are now, if not fully recognized unions, in the process of unionizing through the NLRB.”


Correction: This article previously stated that GSU-UE delivered their letter on Thursday November 19. The Thursday of that week was the 17 and the letter in actuality was delivered on Wednesday November 16.