Duke grad student government votes to support Graduate Students Union, calls on admin to not interfere

The Graduate and Professional Student Government’s Student Affairs Committee, co-sponsored by the Duke Graduate Students Union, unanimously passed a resolution “calling for recognition of the rights of graduate students to unionize and organize a fair election without harassment or interference from Duke administration” on Monday. 

DGSU launched a unionization drive seeking formal recognition from the National Labor Relations Board on Sept. 16, coinciding with Suzanne Barbour’s first day as the new dean of The Graduate School.

“Duke can’t divide GPSG and DGSU,” read an Instagram post by DGSU on Monday. 

The 24-page-long resolution stated in its preamble that the Duke administration believes that “GPSG presents an alternative to unionization.” The GPSG resolution argued that a labor union, which is “tasked with collective bargaining,” is different from and complementary to a student government, which is “tasked with advocacy.”

Barbour recently responded to a question from The Chronicle about DGSU’s unionization activities by pointing to The Graduate School’s “wonderful job of engaging with GPSG” to address student issues. 

The resolution called on Barbour to “specifically affirm the rights of international students to sign union authorization cards” and asked Provost Sally Kornbluth to “issue a public statement in support of graduate students’ rights to a fair election free of harassment and intimidation.” 

The preamble ​​also accused Duke of responding to DGSU’s previous 2016-17 union drive with “anti-union rhetoric” and “anti-union activity,” and included several addendums of messages from University administrators to graduate students from that time. 

In a letter the union attempted to deliver to President Vincent Price last month, organizers claimed that during the 2016-17 union drive, Duke sent “intimidating messages to students from an anonymous email address with subject lines such as ‘What You Don’t Know Can Hurt You’ and ‘At What Cost?’” Administrative staff declined the letter, per a union organizer. 

Chris Simmons, Duke’s interim associate vice president for public affairs and government relations, declined to comment on the contents of the letter at the time. He also declined to comment on why administrative staff did not accept the letter and if Price had been made aware of the letter. 

GPSG also reaffirmed graduate student workers’ constitutional and statutory rights to publicly assemble and seek recognition from the National Labor Relations Board. 

The resolution called for the University to “recognize the rights of graduate students to organize a union” and to “maintain a stance of true neutrality.” It also reflected previous demands from DGSU for Duke to voluntarily recognize the union if a majority of graduate students sign union cards during the drive.

DGSU can attain formal recognition as a union if it either successfully completes a card-signing process and NLRB election or if Duke voluntarily recognizes the group.

This is a developing story and will be updated as more information becomes available. 


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Audrey Wang | Data Editor

Audrey Wang is a Trinity senior and data editor of The Chronicle's 120th volume. She was previously editor-in-chief for Volume 119.


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Vishal Jammulapati | Associate News Editor

Vishal Jammulapati is a Trinity sophomore and an associate news editor of The Chronicle's 118th volume.

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