KALAMAZOO – Teaching Assistants at Western Michigan University voted overwhelmingly today for union representation, giving themselves the right to negotiate health insurance, salary, tuition waivers, and other conditions of employment with the university administration. The vote, 290 in favor, 14 against, certifies the Teaching Assistants Union (TAU) as a collective bargaining agent affiliated with AFT Michigan, AFL-CIO. Eligible to vote were approximately 700 graduate students who work teaching, grading, and tutoring on the university's Kalamazoo campus. The election was conducted yesterday and today by the Michigan Employment Relations Commission (MERC).
Teaching Assistants teach many of the introductory courses and lab sections at the university while they simultaneously pursue graduate degrees. Many supported unionization because of the poor health insurance provided by the university. "Women's health care issues have been completely ignored," said Rebecca Hayes who teaches Criminal Justice at the University. Other cited salaries and tuition waivers. Overall, however, the central issue for these workers was recognition: "My department values who I am, but we need a union to have a voice within the larger university community," said Jason Trowbridge a TA in mathematics and a member of the union's organizing committee.
Like the graduate employee unions at the University of Michigan, Michigan State University, and Wayne State University, TAU is affiliated with AFT Michigan, AFT, AFL-CIO. Graduate employees have also formed unions at the University of Wisconsin -- Madison, the University of Oregon, Oregon State University, all University of California campuses, and the University of Kansas. Currently, graduate employees at New York University, affiliated with the United Auto Workers, are on strike to protest NYU's refusal to recognize their union.
The Coalition of Graduate Employee Unions is a loose-knit coalition of labor unions in the USA and Canada that represents graduate students employed as teachers, researchers, and administrative staff.