CHICAGO –(ENEWSPF)–June 8. 2017. University of Chicago student library employees have won an election today to unionize, with over 80% of voters supporting affiliation with Teamsters Local 743. This collective, organized by the Student Library Employee Union (SLEU), will be the first nationally recognized undergraduate and graduate student union at a private university.
In total, 93 student library employees voted in the election that was held between June 2 and June 8. In a vote count conducted by the National Labor Relations Board, 67 voted in favor of unionization, and 13 against. Additionally, 13 graduate student votes were challenged by the University administration due their possible overlap with the graduate student unionization effort also taking place on campus.
“As one of the coordinators for SLEU, I’m of course thrilled about the election results, but I am especially excited for what this means for me as a student worker, where having a voice in collective bargaining will really impact my relationship with the University. Student labor makes the day-to-day functioning of this university possible, so it is imperative that student workers should have a voice in how it functions,” said second-year Katie McPolin, a student worker at Eckhart Library.
She said, “Winning today’s election brings the University of Chicago a step closer to being a democratic institution, where the administration’s priorities will reflect the needs of students and staff instead of big-name donors.”
Students say that wages are too low and hours too irregular for part-time student library workers in need of a secure source of income, with some taking on second jobs outside of the university system to cover expenses necessary to receive an education. They say that the library bureaucracy is opaque such that it is difficult to push for changes when employers won’t give them a fair deal.
Moving forward, the student library employee union will negotiate with the University for a contract that prioritizes issues such as employee wages, hours, and third-party legal representation in cases of Title IX, ADA and labor violations. Students say that only as unionized workers will they be able to protect their rights as well as fully engage in the academic mission of the University of Chicago.
“I’m so excited about the outcome of the election because for me, the most pressing issue is fair pay. I know many students who overwork themselves due to the low pay. The overwhelming support for unionization confirms this,” said first-year Sloan Rucker, a student worker at the Joseph Regenstein Library.
UChicago’s student library employee union is the first in a national trend to unionize student workers at universities. The University’s Graduate Students United, a coalition of graduate student employees, is also seeking to unionize.
“As someone from a right-to-work state, I’m proud of my fellow student workers fighting back against dominant anti-labor narratives. Young people from my generation are demanding that our voices be heard, and unionization is an important part of our movement. Our election sets a precedent for student workers across the country; they can demand a seat at the bargaining table and make their universities more equitable and accessible,” said third-year Michael Weinrib, a student worker at the Joseph Regenstein Library.
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