Graduate workers union requests voluntary recognition from Stanford

April 21, 2023, 9:33 p.m.

The Stanford Graduate Workers Union (SGWU) requested voluntary recognition from the University today, according to an email sent to the SGWU mailing list this morning by the SGWU coordinating committee, a group of graduate workers who coordinate union events.

The move follows a card-signing campaign during which over 3,600 Stanford graduate student-workers signed authorization cards expressing their interest in being represented by the SGWU, according to organizer Tania Flores, a fourth-year Ph.D. candidate in Iberian and Latin American Cultures. Flores said that the SGWU petitioned the University for voluntary recognition “based on the number of cards” it received.

The National Labor Relations Board (NLRB) website states that if at least 30% of workers have signed cards, they can become represented by a union through an NLRB election if a majority of voters vote in favor of the union. However, they can also become represented by the union through another avenue: if the employer voluntarily recognizes the union “based on evidence” that “a majority of employees want it to represent them” — usually through signed cards, according to the NLRB’s website.

University spokesperson Stett Holbrook wrote in an email to The Daily that the University “[has] received the request for voluntary recognition, and the request is currently under review by the university.”

The SGWU launched its unionization campaign on the first day of spring quarter, citing persistent affordability issues, food insecurity, lack of recourse for workplace harassment and power imbalances between graduate workers and the University as some of the issues driving graduate workers’ push to unionize.

Later that week, University President Marc Tessier-Lavigne and Provost Persis Drell addressed the campaign through an email to the Stanford community. In their email, they encouraged graduate students to “consider closely what it means to become a member of a union.” They also committed to “open dialogue” with graduate students, while reaffirming their “strong position” that the University should retain the right to make decisions related to academic matters and that “unionization is about employment matters, not academic ones.”

Holbrook did not respond to a question about whether the University’s stance on its relationship with graduate students or its attitude towards unionization have changed over the course of the SGWU’s card-signing campaign.

In its email to the SGWU mailing list, the SGWU coordinating committee called voluntary recognition “the most efficient and collaborative way” for the union to begin negotiations with the University.

Flores said that it’s “clear that a strong majority of Stanford’s graduate workers want a union,” adding that graduate student-workers are ready to bargain with Stanford for better working conditions.

“We call on the University to recognize us as a union,” Flores said. “The University has the opportunity to respect the wishes of its graduate workers at this juncture, and we hope that they will do so.”

If the University does not voluntarily recognize the SGWU, organizers plan to petition to have an NLRB election occur within the next few weeks, according to the coordinating committee’s email.

SGWU organizer Hanon McShea, a fifth-year Ph.D. candidate in Earth system science, said that the SGWU would aim to have an election as soon as possible in this scenario.

“Graduate workers struggle here every day,” McShea said. “So as soon as we can begin negotiating for improvements to our lives at Stanford, the better.”

Flores added that Stanford graduate workers are “suffering on a number of levels,” citing a lack of affordable housing, healthcare and mental health issues. The issues are “urgent,” she said, and affect graduate workers’ well-being and ability to work, do research and teach.

“It’s really our hope that the University will recognize that these are solvable issues that we can work together to address,” Flores said, “and that the University will respect our desire to bargain in good faith.”

Anne Li '24 M.S. '25 was a vol. 264 Equity Project editor. Contact her at anneli ‘at’

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