Amid a flurry of questions regarding the Princeton Graduate Students United (PGSU) efforts to unionize, the Graduate Student Government (GSG) voted to release a message of support for PGSU, at their meeting on Tuesday, Feb. 21 presided by GSG Vice President of Internal Affairs Allison Tang.
The GSG serves as the primary representative body for Princeton’s graduate students. It was formed in 1989, with early priorities including addressing Teaching Assistant pay and organizing graduate student social events. Graduate students formed the PGSU in 2016 to serve as a vehicle for grad students working to secure contractual benefits, including guaranteed housing and improved health insurance, and to create an equitable and safe work environment.
The vote comes less than a week after a PGSU rally on Feb. 15, which drew over 150 supporters of the unionization effort. According to union representative Aditi Rao, a graduate student in the classics department, 1,200 Princeton graduate students signed up for their union cards following the Feb. 15 rally alone, bringing the total to 1,500 students.
The GSG is composed of 33 representatives from various academic departments, along with an elected executive board. According to their website, the GSG’s “mission is to support and advocate for graduate students in their multiple roles: as researchers, as teachers, as students, and as members of the broader Princeton University community.”
Before the vote, Rao spoke about the “historic movement of graduate unions” at various universities across the country. Graduate students at peer institutions, including Harvard, Columbia, Brown, and Yale are unionized, with Yale unionizing in January.
After initial statements by Rao, the meeting opened to questions about the proposed union. One graduate student asked Rao when union members would be expected to pay a due equating to 1.44 percent of their paychecks. Rao answered, “Nobody will ever pay the dues until there is a guaranteed, negotiated raise.”
In response to a question about the unionization process, Rao said. “We’re at the petitioning stage. In order to file for a union election with the … National Labor Relations Board, we need 30 percent of graduate students at this university to sign a union card. We are well past that number. We are almost at 50 percent.”
“We really want it to be a super majority so we know for ourselves that the vast majority of students at this university support a union,” Rao added. “We want to get our number up to as close to 2,000 [students] as possible.”
“One of the big union pushes is to make sure, contractually, every international student has the right to work over their summers,” Rao said, referencing the union’s plans to fight for Curricular Practical Training (CPT). CPT is a training program that allows international students to work during the summer and make money on top of their stipend. According to Rao, “This makes a huge difference to the financial stability of international graduate students who make up 40 percent of this campus.”
Currently, Princeton does not offer CPT to international students on a campus-wide basis, leaving it to individual departments to decide whether they will provide the program instead.
Another student asked if the University could take retaliatory action against students involved in the union, such as terminating their housing contracts.
“Striking is a protected activity, and forming a union is a protected activity. If it wasn’t, I wouldn’t be up here giving my name,” Rao responded. “If the University chooses to cancel your housing contract you are paying for because you are striking, that is an illegal activity.”
The assembly then held a vote to release a statement in support of PGSU’s unionization efforts. The vote passed, with one person abstaining and one voting against the measure. There were 24 graduate students present.
Also during the meeting, the GSG voted to begin election proceedings and announced a listening circle for the anniversary of the war in Ukraine.
According to the GSG website, meetings are typically held on the second Wednesday of every month in Friend Center 113. The meeting was held in Louis A. Simpson International Building B60 on Tuesday, February 21 at 6 p.m.
Olivia Sanchez is a news contributor for the ‘Prince.’
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