Duke Has Devil of a Time With Unionization Bid

By Jaclyn Diaz

The Service Employees International Union has withdrawn its petition to represent Duke University graduate students after election results were inconclusive.

Ballots from the Feb. 24 election showed 691 were against union representation, 398 were in favor and 502 ballots were inconclusive. Because the number of challenged ballots is enough to change the results of the election, the next step would be a National Labor Relations Board review and hearings to investigate the ballots.

Instead of going through a long review process, the Duke graduate student organizing committee decided to withdraw the petition, an SEIU representative told Bloomberg BNA March 8.

The university received notice of the withdrawal late March 7, Paula D. McClain, the dean of Duke’s graduate school and the vice provost for graduate education, said in a note to the community.

“We take pride in the efforts we have put forth in providing strong, competitive support for our Ph.D. students. At the same time, the debate over unionization brought to our attention certain concerns among our students,” McClain said in the statement, which appeared on the school’s website. “We look forward to continuing to work with you as collaborative partners to enhance all aspects of your educational experience.”

The Duke organizing committee said the school participated in “union busting” tactics throughout the campaign. That included submitting requests to the NLRB challenging the union’s organizing petitions and seeking delays for the February election, it said. The NLRB denied the requests.

A university spokesman rejected the committee’s characterization.

“The university appropriately exercised all its rights under the law throughout this process,” the spokesman told Bloomberg BNA March 8. “We now look forward to working collaboratively with our graduate students to support their education at Duke.”

Efforts Continue

The students will continue to advocate for better wages and benefits without a union at Duke, the SEIU spokesman said.

“This is not a decision to quit fighting—rather, it is a recognition that the source of our strength is not lawyers or litigation, but our collective knowledge, power and experience as graduate student workers,” the organizing committee said in a statement.

The SEIU filed the petition to represent Duke graduate students in November. It was the first private university seeking representation by that union after an NLRB decision in August ruled that graduate research and teaching assistants can be considered employees and are eligible to form a union. The decision paved the way for organizing at private colleges across the country.

To contact the reporter on this story: Jaclyn Diaz in Washington at jDiaz@bna.com

To contact the editors responsible for this story: Peggy Aulino at maulino@bna.com; Terence Hyland at thyland@bna.com; Christopher Opfer at copfer@bna.com

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