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### UNH Graduate Students Address Low Wages and Rising Housing Costs Through Unionization

DURHAM — The University of New Hampshire is making strides towards the complete unionization of its graduate student workers, with an expected culmination in March when union officers are elected following years of dedicated effort.

UNH Graduate Employees United – UAW, which represents approximately 700 graduate student workers, has taken a significant stride by formally requesting a union election from the New Hampshire Public Employee Labor Relations Board. The union revealed that nearly 75% of graduate student workers in Durham have endorsed the unionization process by signing union authorization cards.

Upon approval, the graduate student union will establish itself as an official chapter of the International Union, United Automobile, Aerospace and Agricultural Implement Workers of America.

Jed Siebert, a forestry PhD student at UNH, elucidated the rationale behind the drive for unionization, emphasizing the necessity of having a platform for negotiations with the university. Siebert, who shifted from a teaching assistant to a research assistant during his master’s program in Durham, stressed the collective objective of achieving representation.

UNH’s Collaboration with the Graduate Student Union

A spokesperson from UNH affirmed the university’s collaboration with the graduate students as they advance towards unionization.

In a statement, spokesperson Tania deLuzuriaga expressed, “UNH is committed to following the appropriate protocols with all labor groups on campus. We are engaging in constructive cooperation with our graduate students, the UAW, and the Public Employee Labor Relations Board (PELRB) to ensure a just process and will continue to adhere to the regulations of the PELRB.”

While the specific date is pending confirmation, UNH has agreed to allow the union to conduct its election in March.

“An air of solemnity prevails”:

Concerns Regarding Salary, Housing, and Insurance at the Forefront for Graduate Students

Siebert, along with other organizers, launched the unionization campaign during his master’s program in the fall semester of 2021. The union’s membership primarily consists of graduate teaching assistants and research assistants at the university.

Pointing out the prevalent issues, Siebert remarked, “Graduate workers at UNH are encountering challenges that are widespread. There has been a noticeable uptick in graduate workers forming unions nationwide over the past decade. Our compensation and benefits do not align adequately with the local cost of living. Some students face difficulties in affording accommodation near the campus or are compelled to live in substandard housing. Moreover, the absence of dental and vision insurance presents a hurdle for many.”

Josh Trombley, a graduate teaching assistant in UNH’s Department of Natural Resources and the Environment, echoed concerns regarding local housing constraints and inadequate wages as pivotal drivers of the unionization movement.

“Our contributions are indispensable to the university’s educational and research pursuits,” Trombley emphasized in a prepared statement. “Numerous courses rely on our instructional assistance, and we play a vital role in maintaining UNH’s standing as an R1 research institution. With living expenses on the rise and the housing crisis exacerbating, our compensation and benefits are trailing behind, with some members earning as little as $22,000 annually.”

Growth of Unions in Academic Institutions across the United States

As per a report by Inside Higher Ed, there were 84 student worker bargaining units at colleges and universities nationwide as of last July, indicating an increase from 54 unions in 2021.

Brandon Mancilla, the director of UAW Region 9A, which encompasses New England, New York City, and Puerto Rico, expressed anticipation for the inclusion of UNH graduate workers in the expanding UAW community. Mancilla underscored the significance of this development in empowering academic workers to advocate for enhanced standards in teaching and research roles throughout the U.S.

The certification of UNH Graduate Employees United – UAW will necessitate a majority vote in favor of the union from the university’s graduate student workers.

Through unionization, UNH’s graduate student workers aim to negotiate for improved wages, better benefits, healthcare coverage, and worker protections with the university administration.

The endeavor for a graduate student worker union coincides with the university’s implementation of a “budget reset,” involving $14 million in operational cost reductions. Consequently, several staff members have been laid off across the university.

Siebert expressed optimism regarding the unionization efforts, noting the prevailing enthusiasm surrounding this initiative.

The UAW maintains a substantial presence in the U.S., Canada, and Mexico, with over 1 million active members and more than 580,000 retired members across these regions.

With over 600 local unions and approximately 1,750 contracts involving about 1,050 employers in the three countries, the UAW remains a prominent advocate for workers’ rights.