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Student groups rally against University hiring law firm in graduate student union negotiations

<p>Students delivered a statement to President Brodhead Tuesday&nbsp;about the University’s recent decision to hire a law firm for union negotiations.&nbsp;</p>

Students delivered a statement to President Brodhead Tuesday about the University’s recent decision to hire a law firm for union negotiations. 

In the ongoing effort of graduate students to unionize, the University has hired a law firm for the negotiations—and some students are not happy about it. 

Duke graduate and undergraduate students gathered outside of the Allen Building Tuesday to deliver statements to President Richard Brodhead about the University’s recent decision to hire Proskauer Rose, LLP.

“All we really want to see is [the administration] not intervene,” said sophomore Jay Zussman. “It’s blasphemous to me that the administration is so scared that they are going to reach out to these types of really, really dirty methods to try and suppress the rights of the graduate students on campus.”

Proskauer Rose, LLP, is an international law firm known for its work in labor law. Recently, the firm represented Columbia University as graduate student workers there were forming a union.

During the event, students from United Students Against Sweatshops and Duke Students and Workers in Solidarity expressed frustration with the University’s decision to hire the firm. Students chanted outside the Allen Building before delivering the statements to Brodhead's office. 

A main theme of the event was Brodhead's email to the Duke community last week addressing the unionization efforts, which said that "the University will in no way intrude upon the right of any individual voter to consider this issue and vote on it."

“President Brodhead, despite your claim that the University will in no way intrude upon the unionization process, it has come to light that you have hired Proskauer Rose, LLP, a union-busting law firm with a reputation for silencing worker voices to push the agendas of large corporations,” said a statement read out by students at the event. “Duke’s relationship with Proskauer Rose, LLP, is a direct attack against DGSU’s effort to improve working and learning conditions on Duke’s campus.”

But Michael Schoenfeld, vice president for public affairs and government relations, denied this accusation. 

"The University will not intrude on the right of Duke graduate students to consider this issue and vote on it," he wrote in an email. "However, we continue to believe that a union is not in the best interest of students or the university, and we will take the necessary steps to express our views so students can be fully informed before they make a decision."

Although several graduate students are in favor of the union, the University has maintained it would actually harm graduate students' interests. And a new group—Students Against Duke Unionization—is also raising concerns about the union, as have several engineering faculty members

The rally, however, focused on reasons why the union could benefit graduate-student workers. Graduate student Anastasia Kārkliņa, who also attended Duke as an undergraduate, discussed the financial struggles of graduate workers. 

“When I walk this campus and I know people who care about this University and its mission, I know that as a community, we can make a choice to prioritize people who make Duke work and that includes students, faculty, graduate workers and non-academic staff who work on this campus every day,” Kārkliņa said. 

After the rally, the students walked up to Brodhead’s office. However, he was not there, so they left their statements with the reception desk. 

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