SEIU Accuses Duke of Erecting Unionization Blockades - Higher Education
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SEIU Accuses Duke of Erecting Unionization Blockades

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by David Pluviose

In a news release, the Service Employees International Union is criticizing Duke University’s administration, following a vote to unionize Duke graduate students on Friday, alleging that Duke has done “everything it could for months to delay the vote and prevent hundreds of workers from receiving ballots” and Duke is “now contesting the eligibility of hundreds of student workers to participate.”

Duke Today, Duke’s in-house news service, reports that, of the 1,089 ballots cast on Friday, 691 voted against representation by SEIU and 398 voted for SEIU representation. However, 502 ballots have been challenged, and thus, the outcome remains uncertain.

However, in an email to Diverse, Michael Schoenfeld, Duke’s vice president for public affairs and government relations, says there is more to the story.

“Of the 502 challenged ballots, 302 were impounded by order of the NLRB in Washington, D.C., because the regional director failed to allow the university an opportunity to litigate the eligibility of teaching and research assistants who are not serving this semester but held appointments in 2016,” Schoenfeld said.

According to Schoenfeld, the remaining 200 challenges “were made by both SEIU and Duke.” Duke challenged ballots for issues ranging from students no longer enrolled at Duke, students who have already graduated, students not enrolled in Ph.D. programs, and students “not within the legally defined bargaining unit during the prescribed time, and whose activities made them ineligible to vote (i.e., they were on fellowships, not in a working relationship).

“The university supported a free and fair election, and we look forward to an equally free and fair resolution of these concerns,” Schoenfeld says.

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In addition, on March 1, SEIU said in its release that “Duke graduate students, faculty and others will join a nationwide day of action under the banner of #CampusResistance and lift up the demand that all voices be heard.”

“This is not the first legal obstacle we will have overcome, and we stand together confident in the strength of our message and our movement,” said Jane Tandler in the release, who is studying neurobiology and pursuing a Ph.D. at Duke. “Together we will secure a unified voice to speak out for positive change in our working conditions, ultimately improving our own work and making Duke stronger as well.”

In the release, SEIU notes that about 15,000 higher education faculty and graduate workers have joined SEIU since 2013.

David Pluviose can be reached at dpluviose@diverseeducation.com.

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