Goebel: One Way or Another, Union Yes

Dartmouth’s union busting campaign reveals its total disregard for graduate student needs.

by Genevieve Goebel | 4/10/23 4:00am

Graduate student-workers at Dartmouth formed the Graduate Organized Laborers of Dartmouth-United Electrical Workers — GOLD-UE — out of a dire need to improve our quality of life. I joined the GOLD-UE Organizing Committee in April 2022 because I personally felt this obvious need. Though I’m fortunate to be advancing in my career, my living conditions have only worsened over the past four years. I’ve had to remain in the same apartment because finding better, more affordable places to live is nearly impossible. At the same time, my rent has increased by $300 per month, while my pay has not kept pace. Without reliable public transportation from where I live in Vermont, I’ve had no choice but to take on credit card debt to cover essential — and expensive — maintenance when my car’s brakes failed and wheel bearings needed urgent replacement. I’ve only visited the dentist twice in the past four years because Dartmouth offers us no dental coverage. I consider myself lucky to have avoided further crippling medical debt because Dartmouth doesn’t provide us adequate health insurance coverage. It shouldn’t be controversial to say that Dartmouth’s graduate students need a union. Only since the formation of GOLD-UE has Dartmouth started to take our pleas for a cost of living adjustment and other necessary changes seriously.

It may surprise some in the Upper Valley community, but graduate students at one of the country’s most prestigious collegiate institutions are not okay. We live paycheck-to-paycheck, suffer disproportionately in cases of illness due to unaffordable medical expenses, and are subject to exploitation by advisors who hold outsized influence over our careers. Furthermore, international students in all programs struggle to navigate processes like relocation and filing taxes without support. Thankfully, we no longer suffer in silence and solitude. Instead, we lean on each other when times get tough and fight for each other in the face of injustice.

We, as GOLD-UE, have built a strong community committed to advocating for each other’s needs. We demonstrated our capacity for mutual aid in tough times when students living in the Summit on Juniper apartments lost central heating for months, including during the single-digits cold snap in early February. GOLD-UE called for donations of space heaters and found volunteers to open their homes to those needing emergency shelter. The outpouring of volunteering and aid in those frigid times demonstrated that we care for each other in a way that the College simply doesn’t. We respond with immediate support when members of our community have unmet needs. By listening to each other, we developed a platform of four foundational needs: a living wage, better benefits, safety in our workplace and fairness for international students. As a result, a majority of graduate workers have now pledged to vote in favor of our union because we believe that unionizing is the most effective way for us to guarantee these things for all current and future graduate student-workers.

The College disagrees. Because it knows it has already lost the fight on our union’s merits, it has resorted to sleazy legal maneuvers to try and delay meeting us at the bargaining table. On April 3, Dartmouth notified us that they consider students on fellowship, including the Dartmouth Fellowship, ineligible to vote in our union election, which will be held on Tuesday, April 11 and Wednesday, April 12. They already had formally agreed to include “all graduate students enrolled in Dartmouth College degree programs who are employed to provide teaching and research services” in our union’s bargaining unit. They now claim that graduate students on fellowship don’t provide teaching or research services to the college in exchange for their stipends. 

This assertion is categorically untrue and deeply insulting. I’m a Dartmouth Fellow and must work as a graduate teaching assistant for two terms per year to receive my pay. For most of the academic year, I split my weeks between conducting my research and leading 4 hour lab sections, grading batches of over 30 assignments and meeting with students for office hours by appointment. I’m obviously a graduate student worker, yet Dartmouth has deemed me ineligible to participate in this crucial vote that clearly pertains to me.

To make matters worse, the day after they made the notification, Dartmouth submitted a list to the National Labor Relations Board that deemed 54% of our graduate student community, or 423 rightful voters, as ineligible to vote. The most notable aspect of this list is that Dartmouth broke its own rule of excluding voters based on fellowship. If we use their supposed criteria, there are 210 errors. They included 150 fellows as eligible voters and excluded 60 non-fellows for no apparent reason. Without any obvious logic determining voter eligibility, we have been left confused and scrambling to verify each voter’s eligibility individually, all in the final days before our union election.

We were slightly comforted on April 5 when the National Labor Relations Board took our side and rejected Dartmouth’s request to exclude voters on such short notice based on their meaningless criteria. Unfortunately, this ruling didn’t seem to matter to Dartmouth because they declared that they will still challenge every vote cast by a graduate worker they deem ineligible. To the College, it’s immaterial whether any of these challenges succeed. Their real goal is to delay and obfuscate so that we get bogged down in hearings rather than advocating for the changes to our living conditions that we need now. What’s worse is that they’re attempting to conceal their intentions by encouraging “all” graduate students, “regardless of the source of [their] stipend funding,” to vote. By going against the National Labor Relations Board’s decision and encouraging graduate students to cast ballots that they intend to challenge, they’ve completely dispelled any notion of sincerity when they claim to support graduate students. Dartmouth knows that what they’re doing puts our union in jeopardy. They’ve let go of any chance they had at saving face.

Luckily, these egregious moves by Dartmouth and its lawyers have galvanized our organizing workforce. Those still included as unchallenged voters can act in solidarity with us disenfranchised coworkers by casting their ballots on Tuesday and Wednesday, April 11 and 12. We’re calling on all of our supporters to get involved in maximizing eligible voter turnout. The “ineligibles,” including me, are channeling frustration into focused organizing. We’re tirelessly canvassing graduate offices and lab spaces during the day and phone banking in the evening. We’ve resolved to boycott the polls to deny Dartmouth the chance of slowing us down. Please help us spread the word about our Walk Out for Voting Rights on Tuesday, April 11, at 10 a.m. on the Dartmouth Green! We cannot let Dartmouth succeed in silencing us.

Genevieve Goebel is a fourth-year Ph.D. candidate in the Ecology, Evolution, Environment and Society (EEES) Program. Opinion articles represent the views of their author(s), which are not necessarily those of The Dartmouth.

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