NLRB Decision Allows for Union Election by Ph.D. Students

By | January 19, 2017

Dear Graduate Students,

Today, we received a decision from the regional office of the National Labor Relations Board in Atlanta, ruling that Duke Ph.D. students who serve as teaching and research assistants are employees who are eligible to seek representation through the Service Employees International Union. An election will be held in the near future by mail ballot.

While we disagree with the Board’s decision and will preserve our appeal options, we encourage every eligible voter to participate in the election so that everyone’s voice is heard. The outcome of the election will be determined by a majority of those who vote, not a majority of those eligible to vote. The outcome will bind all current and future graduate students in the defined unit, not just those who cast a ballot. Therefore, it is critical that every eligible student vote on this important question. It is the only way to make your voice heard.

Our graduate students play an important role at Duke, but this role is part of the academic experience to prepare them for their future careers. Having a union represent graduate students in one limited aspect of this relationship will affect the entire relationship and limit the flexibility and quality of students’ overall academic experience, both now and in the future.

We will be sending you more information tomorrow and in the days to follow, but we wanted to notify you immediately of the NLRB’s decision. For more information about unionization and the implications of collective bargaining, please visit

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