Graduate Student Union Election: What to Expect Next

By | January 20, 2017

Dear Graduate Students,

As promised, I am following up to share more information about the upcoming election on whether the Service Employees International Union (SEIU) should represent Duke Ph.D. students serving as research or teaching assistants for the purposes of collective bargaining.

First, the National Labor Relations Board (NLRB) has decided on a mail ballot election with ballots scheduled to be mailed to you on Jan. 31, 2017. The NLRB will collect and count all submitted ballots at 10 a.m. on Feb. 21, 2017. Those dates can change, and we will notify you if they do.

Eligible voters will include all Duke Ph.D. students who provide instructional services in courses or in labs, including teaching assistants, research assistants, graduate assistants, instructors, and graders. Students pursuing master’s degrees are not included, because the union amended its petition to exclude them.

As with any election, I want to emphasize the importance of voting in this one. The outcome will be binding on all Ph.D. students in the proposed bargaining unit now and in the future, not just those who vote. If you are one of the students in the unit, understand that you cannot exclude yourself by not voting, so every member of the proposed unit should vote.

Next, I want to make you aware that Duke is required by law to provide your contact information to the SEIU and the NLRB. I understand that this raises privacy concerns for some of you. As I have told a number of you in the past when you reached out to me with concerns about The Graduate School releasing your information, we take your privacy very seriously, and it is our practice to protect your privacy in accordance with the Family Educational Rights and Privacy Act of 1974 (FERPA). Yet, in this case we are required to comply with the National Labor Relations Act and turn over a list of eligible voters and their home addresses, home phone numbers, personal email addresses, and cell phone numbers as maintained by the University.

I understand that this is sensitive personal information and some of you might consider this an invasion of privacy, just as I would if my personal information was released to someone I did not know. It is, however, required by federal law now that an election has been scheduled. Once we turn over this information, you may be visited or contacted by representatives from the SEIU, but you have the right to decline any request to meet with the union at your home or on campus. If you have questions or encounter any problems regarding such visits, please contact me directly ( or get in touch with the National Labor Relations Board at 336-631-5201.

Finally, on behalf of The Graduate School and the University, I want to reiterate what President Brodhead said in his November email to the Duke community: We are not neutral on the issue of unionization with the SEIU. Graduate education is an integral part of Duke’s mission, so it is only natural that we have a view on issues that affect our graduate students. We believe that you have much to lose in your current ability to work directly with your faculty advisors on issues affecting your scholarship and research, and that this loss will detract from your academic experience at Duke. We will be communicating with you more in the coming days, but you can find answers to many questions about the implications of unionization at


Paula D. McClain, Ph.D.
Dean of The Graduate School and
Vice Provost for Graduate Education