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Letter: Duke grad workers demand a fair contract

letter to the editor

Across the country, workers are under attack. A recent decision by Trump’s National Labor Relations Board (NLRB) threatens to roll back graduate workers’ right to form a union. Without union rights and contract guarantees, graduate workers—especially those of us who are not men, who are not white, who are from low-income backgrounds, who are not US citizens, who support families and who struggle with mental health—are vulnerable to bottom lines and abusive work environments, rather than guaranteed the protections and benefits we deserve.

That’s why the Duke Graduate Students Union (DGSU) is demanding a Fair Contract for graduate workers at Duke. What kind of workplace do you want for you and your colleagues? What changes do you want to see? Across departments, Duke graduate workers need a contract guaranteeing fair pay, good benefits, and protections against hostile and unsafe work environments. If Trump’s NLRB won’t protect these rights for us, then Duke should.

As DGSU begins this fight, we are highlighting two urgent issues affecting graduate workers: dental care and harassment and discrimination.

Duke should provide dental care to all graduate workers. Duke’s current University Savings Plan is hardly an adequate substitute for actual dental care covering the full range of services and procedures that any person needs to stay healthy. Affordable, comprehensive dental care is something every graduate worker should be guaranteed. DGSU demands that Duke:

  1. Give graduate workers and their dependents the same dental care coverage that is available to other employees on campus (Plan A).
  2. Eliminate premiums and deductibles for dental care for graduate workers and their dependents.

Duke must guarantee a workplace free of harassment and discrimination. Just last year, Biostatistics Masters students were ordered to stop having conversations in their native language by their program director. Only after the story was picked up by international news agencies did this professor face consequences. In most cases, graduate workers have little protection against harassment and discrimination. When a complaint is filed with a mandatory reporter or the Office of Institutional Equity, it often leads nowhere. Graduate workers simply learn to put up with abusive behavior, or transfer labs and give up research opportunities just to stay safe. DGSU demands that Duke:

  1. Expand the University’s definition of harassment and discrimination to protect all graduate workers from hostile, abusive and intimidating work environments.
  2. Require annual in-person harassment and discrimination training for all workers, managers and mandatory reporters at Duke.
  3. Design harassment and discrimination sanctions to protect the grievant, not the University.
  4. Ultimately, institute an independent and neutral third-party grievance process.

As workers’ rights are under attack across higher education and beyond, Duke graduate workers need to come together and build the workplace we want and deserve. We invite all graduate workers to a Fair Contract Town Hall on Wednesday February 12 at 6:30 p.m. in Social Psychology 130. We will discuss the reality of harassment and discrimination at Duke and the urgent need for dental care for all graduate workers. Join us!

Austin Wadle is a second year student in Civil and Environmental Engineering. Griffin Riddler is a first year student in Political Science. They are members of the Duke Graduate Student Union.


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