Graduate students protest revised union voter list

After the College attempted to exclude 54% of graduate student workers from the union vote, graduate students and supporters rallied in protest.

by Julia Abbott | 4/14/23 5:10am

by Hannah Li / The Dartmouth

On Tuesday, graduate students, representatives from New Hampshire Voices of Faith — a local  multi-faith political action coalition — and undergraduate students gathered on the Green to support the Graduate Organized Laborers of Dartmouth before their union election on Tuesday and Wednesday. The rally came one week after the College submitted a revised labor list to the National Labor Relations Board which proposed the exclusion of 54% of graduate workers from voting, GOLD-UE wrote in a document published on their website.

According to the GOLD-UE document, students and other supporters gathered to protest the College’s attempt to “disenfranchise” its voters, calling the revised list a “blatant attempt to deny” graduate students a free and fair election. The document also called on voters initially deemed ineligible to boycott the polls. 

“The senior leadership of the College, including Provost [David] Kotz and the Dean of the Guarini School [of Graduate and Advanced Studies] Jon Kull are cowards,” second-year Ph.D student Logan Mann said. “They’re well aware that they can’t win in a free and fair election, and instead they’re trying to change the list of eligible voters to try and prevent us from meeting them at the bargaining table for as long as possible.”

Ultimately, GOLD-UE won the election by a 89% margin, with 261 graduate students voting to unionize, the organization announced on Twitter on Thursday. The union required a simple majority to win, according to third-year Ph.D student and GOLD-UE organizer Rendi Rogers.

The College previously rejected GOLD-UE’s request to voluntarily unionize in February, telling GOLD-UE that unionization would require an election based on NLRB regulations. At the time, Kotz wrote that unionization would “slow down” communication between the College and graduate students. After the decision, GOLD-UE filed a petition and requested an election, Rogers said. 

Although the NLRB rejected Dartmouth’s revised list, the College informed GOLD-UE and the NLRB that they would “challenge all ballots” from voters not on its own list. Before the election, GOLD-UE had also requested that no ballots be challenged, according to the organization’s press release. Ultimately, the College contested only 13 ballots, according to GOLD-UE’s Twitter announcement.

According to College spokesperson Diana Lawrence, the College revised its voter list in order to comply with the NLRB’s standards.

“Dartmouth initially submitted a voter list for the election based on the description of the [voter list] to which it had agreed with GOLD-UE,” Lawrence wrote in an email statement. “Following the NLRB regional director’s March 13 decision determining that MIT’s graduate fellows were not employees, Dartmouth submitted a revised list on April 4 in alignment with that decision.”

Lawrence wrote that the College sent a notice of election to all students on the original list and encouraged them to participate in the election, adding that “any challenges would be resolved separately through the NLRB’s established process” following the vote. She added that the College would “look forward” to engaging with the union if they won.

Graduate students said that Dartmouth revised the voter list because College administrators “do not believe that a majority of all [graduate] workers perform work” for the College, according to the GOLD-UE document.

“I think it’s a little insulting and disrespectful that Dartmouth has chosen to disenfranchise 54% of its student workers,” sixth-year Ph.D student Vivian Sabla said. “They say we’re not being paid to teach or work here, but that’s exactly what we’re here for. I’ve been here for six years, paid by Dartmouth to be here — to teach, to grade homeworks, to go to labs, to supervise students [and] to do research for them, and my vote is personally being challenged.”

Third-year Ph.D student David Freeman also emphasized the essential role of graduate students at the College, which he said often goes underappreciated.

“The courses that the graduate students teach [in the mathematics department] include Calculus 1, Calculus 3 and the introductory math courses,” Freeman said. “These courses are basic prerequisites or required classes for lots of undergraduate students. Most undergraduates would not be able to fulfill their course requirements without the grad students teaching those classes.”

Fifth-year Ph.D student Chris Callahan said that he does not know why his vote was deemed ineligible. Although Callahan said he has served as a teaching assistant for at least five classes, supervised laboratory sessions and published four academic papers, he said Dartmouth “does not think [he does] work for the university.” Callahan’s lab partner, on the other hand, was allowed to vote, with little explanation from the College, Callahan said.

“We do not understand how they’ve made this decision because my labmate, who does the exact same work I do on a daily basis, can vote and I cannot vote,” he said.

According to past reporting by The Dartmouth, the graduate union aims to secure higher graduate student stipends, increased privileges for international students — such as visas for immediate family members — and subsidized child care. As of February, Ph.D. students received $35,196 in annual stipends and annual tuition scholarships equal to $80,916.

“GOLD is representative of what I need here and want here, which is a living wage, benefits that include dental insurance and eye insurance and efficient implementation of grad student needs,” Ph.D. student James Logan said. “I found out my vote is being challenged simply because of the method of payment to me. I [work as a teaching assistant] three quarters a year as part of my duties.”

Non-graduate students also showed up to support GOLD-UE at its protest.  

“We stand in absolute rock solid solidarity with the graduate workers at Dartmouth,” reverend doctor and worker justice minister at the Meriden Congregational Church Gail Kinney said. “Dartmouth’s behavior is egregious and shocking, and the message that we want to convey to the Dartmouth administration is that the state of New Hampshire is watching. The faith community of New Hampshire is watching. What they’re doing is immoral and amoral, and we will be with the students for as long as it takes.”

Student Worker Collective at Dartmouth member Polly Chesnokova ’24 said they attended the rally to show solidarity with GOLD-UE. The SWCD, an undergraduate union-organizing group, unanimously voted to unionize one year ago, according to past reporting by The Dartmouth.

“We believe in what they stand for, we believe that all the workers should be recognized for all the work they do,” Chesnokova said. “As an undergraduate myself, I was able to experience how great and amazing graduate teaching assistants are.”