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November 4, 2022

WPI graduate workers vote overwhelmingly to unionize

A brick building with a pointed roof with many windows. Photo | Timothy Doyle Worcester Polytechnic Institute

The Worcester Polytechnic Institute Graduate Workers Union voted 364 to 15 in favor of unionizing under the United Auto Workers umbrella.

The vote was held on Wednesday and Thursday at the Harrington Auditorium on the WPI campus, according to a Friday press release from UAW.

The WPI union includes teaching assistants, all graduate assistants, and all graduate research assistants employed by the WPI, according to the National Labor Relations Board.

The students moved to unionize in response to what they see as insufficient pay and benefits offered by the school at a time when the cost of living is rising in Greater Worcester.

“We look forward to working with WPI to bargain a strong first contract that includes improved benefits, worker protections, and compensation that reflects the value of our contributions,” Sabine Hahn, a graduate worker in the WPI biology & biotechnology program, said in the press release.

Graduate unions at private universities have faced opposition in the past. 

In 2004, the NLRB ruled against a group at Brown University in Rhode Island trying to organize with the argument that it would interfere with their education, according to The Chronicle of Higher Education. In August 2016, NLRB overruled the previous decision. Then in 2019, under the former President Donald Trump Administration, a new rule forbidding student workers from organizing was proposed, but in 2021 that proposed rule was withdrawn under the new Biden Administration.

In addition to WPI, student workers at two other Worcester schools organized in the last two years.

In March, graduate students at Clark University formed the Clark University Graduate Workers United union, supported by the Teamsters Local 170. The Clark union negotiated to ratify its first contract with the university on Oct. 13 after going on strike on Oct. 3.

In March 2021, a Massachusetts Department of Labor Relations certification gave doctors in training at UMass Chan Medical School the ability to collectively bargain.

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