Graduate workers at Princeton University have followed the lead of their University of Chicago and Cornell University peers.
Last week, members of Princeton Graduate Students United voted to join the American Federation of Teachers and its state affiliate, AFT New Jersey, after the recent National Labor Relations Board decision to classify private colleges’ graduate teaching and research assistants as workers.
“I think the movement to unionize graduate workers in Princeton is part of a larger struggle to highlight the value of academic labor,” said Edna Goodman, a sixth-year doctoral student, in a statement. “Graduate students, undergraduates and adjunct professors have continued to provide cheap labor with little protection, and unionization can help ensure that we are protected as workers. Not only is it a question of labor, but it is connected to job prospects after college, austerity in the university system and autonomy in the workplace.”
“I’m pro-union because I think graduate students at Princeton University need a firm, independent advocate for our interests,” added David Walsh, a third-year doctoral student in the history department, in a statement. “I’m pro-AFT because it has a proven track record of successful organizing in the state of New Jersey.”
In September, Cornell University graduate workers voted to join the AFT and its state affiliate, New York State United Teachers. The workers named their new affiliate Cornell Graduate Students United. Earlier this month, University of Chicago graduate workers voted for continued affiliation with the AFT, the Illinois Federation of Teachers and the American Association of University Professors. Members of Graduate Students United at the University of Chicago have been affiliated with the unions since 2011.
The recent developments have been music to AFT President Randi Weingarten’s ears.
“We’re very excited that Princeton grad students—like those at Cornell and the University of Chicago—have chosen the AFT and our state affiliate, AFT New Jersey,” said Weingarten. “The recent NLRB decision, Columbia University, has given grad employees at private universities the same rights as their public counterparts; it’s a pathway for a real say over their work lives. The AFT, as the largest U.S. higher education union, is committed to supporting grad students in raising their voices around the country as this growing national movement takes flight.”
AFT New Jersey President Donna Chiera said she appreciated the work graduate workers have put in to get to this point.
“We see organized graduate student workers achieving many gains for themselves and helping our colleges and universities thrive,” said Chiera. “Graduate student workers make significant contributions to research and academics at their schools and deserve respect and a professional voice. We are proud that Princeton University graduate workers are coming together to learn about the many benefits of joining us and encourage them to be part of the union movement.”