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Senator Sanders Introduces Bill to Protect Graduate Student Workers' Right to Unionize


January 23, 2020

WASHINGTON, January 22 – Sen. Bernie Sanders introduced the Respect Graduate Student Workers Act today, which prohibits the National Labor Relations Board (NLRB) from enacting a proposed rule which would strip graduate student workers’ right to unionize.

Since 2017, the Trump Administration has unleashed a wave of attacks on workplace rights. Most recently, the NLRB proposed a rule to strip graduate student workers’ ability to unionize at their employing institutions, which would immediately impact nearly 58,000 graduate assistants and would jeopardize the rights of the more than 1.5 million graduate students enrolled in the country’s private universities.

“For far too long, the trend in our higher education system has been going in the wrong direction: longer hours, lower pay, weaker job security, and more debt,” said Sen. Sanders. “Too many Americans working within this field have to take on two or even three jobs just to get by. Stronger unions and worker protections are a key part of solving this crisis in our colleges and universities. But instead of protecting graduate workers, the National Labor Relations Board is trying to strip them of their rights. I am proud to join Representative Pocan on this effort to push back against yet another assault by the Trump administration against working people.”

“Graduate workers are a vital part of teaching and research in colleges and universities and should have an equal voice in their workplace,” said Rep. Mark Pocan (D-Wis.), who introduced the House version of the bill. “I am proud to work alongside Senator Sanders in the fight to protect graduate workers against the Trump administration. Stripping graduate students of their rights to unionize is a blatant attempt to profit off the backs of workers without giving them their due. Every worker in every industry deserves the right to form a union, because all workers deserve respect in the workplace.”

Colleges and universities increasingly rely on graduate students for research, teaching, assisting professors, and other essential work as they pursue their advanced degrees. Collective bargaining rights for graduate students allows for a legally binding contract for wages, benefits, and working conditions, including paid time off and a safe working environment.

The legislation is endorsed by the American Federation of Teachers (AFT), Service Employees International Union (SEIU), United Automobile, Aerospace and Agricultural Implement Workers of America (UAW), United Steelworkers (USW), and the American Association of University Professors (AAUP).

Senator Sanders has previously voiced his support for graduate workers’ efforts to unionize at Boston College, Columbia, Cornell, Harvard, Marquette, New School, St. Petersburg College, University of Chicago, University of Pittsburgh, Valencia College, Vanderbilt, and others.


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