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Duke Graduate Students Union holds rally celebrating NLRB certification

In celebration of a landslide victory for the Duke Graduate Students Union, approximately 40 graduate students and affiliates convened at the steps of the Duke Chapel Tuesday afternoon. 

After the National Labor Relations Board approved DGSU’s petition for an election, Duke doctoral students overwhelmingly voted to become an officially recognized union in August. The DGSU’s Tuesday rally was the union’s first since the election was certified. 

Clay Capra, a second-year doctoral student in the history department and DGSU co-secretary, started the rally by leading the crowd with a chant.

“What do we want?” A fair contract! “When do we want it?” Now! 

Capra spoke animatedly while disseminating fliers which featured QR codes linked to union member sign-ups and a “bargaining survey” for graduate student attendees to fill out on issues that may be addressed in the coming bargaining contract with Duke. 

“We kept working the entire time, so as soon as we got our election date, we hit the ground running,” Capra said. “One thousand people turned out to say that they want a union, that they want the rights that are owed to them workers.”

The crowd then welcomed DGSU Treasurer Matthew Reale-Hatem, a fourth-year doctoral student in the University Program in Environmental Policy, to deliver a statement of solidarity to the cohort. 

“We all know that this movement is not just about us, it's about improving conditions for workers at Duke,” Reale-Hatem said. “We're the first unionized campus at a private university in the South, improving working conditions for workers across this country.” 

Reale-Hatem proceeded to introduce former Ohio state Sen. Nina Turner, who attended the rally via Zoom conference. Meanwhile, the crowd filed into the Allen Building, which houses Duke’s main administration. 

Addressing the crowd, Turner expressed her admiration for the DGSU’s feat in becoming the first graduate students union at a private university in the South. 

“I want you to know that you are following in the footsteps of some of the greatest unionists,” Turner said. “You are fighting a righteous fight … it is going to catapult and make it better, so many people are going to follow your footsteps in the future.”

Reale-Hatem then read the DGSU’s letter addressed to the University, which summarized the grievances of doctoral students. Some demands included stipends commensurate with the steep costs of housing, improving medical, dental and vision insurance and streamlining international student visas. 

The letter asked administrators to schedule preliminary bargaining contract meetings by the end of September with the DGSU. 

“Two weeks ago, 1,000 Ph.D. students came together to make their voices heard. This summer saw ballots pouring in from around the globe, across departments and countries to say as one, we deserve a seat at the table,” Reale-Hatem read. “We speak to you today to ask that you meet us there to move towards the fair contract that we all deserve.”

After reading this message, Reale-Hatem physically entered the Allen Building’s administrative offices in an attempt to deliver the letter by hand, but did not receive a definitive response. They slipped the letter under the door of the offices and led the participants back to Abele Quad. 

The rally culminated in a series of speeches by doctoral students, who recounted their personal stories and discussed topics like healthcare insurance, parental responsibilities and international students’ obstacles.

Nate Baker, an activist and candidate for Durham City Council, concluded with a rallying cry for a greater unionization movement.

“This is what class consciousness looks like. So let's take this victory. Let's take it across Duke University,” he said. “Let's get all 30,000 workers unionized. Let's get all workers in Durham unionized. Let's make this a union campus. Let's make this a union city.” 

Halle Friedman | Associate News Editor

Halle Friedman is a Trinity junior and an associate news editor of The Chronicle's 118th volume.


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