Update on Graduate Student Unionization

By | December 13, 2016

Dear students,

As you may be aware, on November 10, Duke received a petition from the Service Employees International Union (SEIU) seeking an election to unionize all Ph.D. and master’s students in teaching and research assistant roles at Duke. As we approach the end of the semester, I am writing to provide an update.

Duke has remained steadfast in its belief that our talented graduate students do not hold employment roles at Duke, but instead participate in teaching and research experiences as part of their overall academic program. In addition, we believe that our historical practice of working directly with our graduate students is a more productive model than one that introduces a nonacademic third party to the mix.

On November 28, the National Labor Relations Board (NLRB) granted Duke’s request for a hearing allowing the university to provide testimony and evidence to support its position.  At the start of the hearing, the SEIU dropped its bid to represent master’s students. Duke then articulated that the relationship between the university and its Ph.D. students is academic in nature rather than one of employer and employee.

The NLRB hearing ended December 7. Both parties (Duke and SEIU) will submit briefs by December 21. The NLRB will then review the hearing record and decide what happens next.

No election will be held until the NLRB rules on several issues in the coming weeks. First, the board must rule on the status of Duke Ph.D. students serving as TAs and RAs.  If they are found to be “employees” under the labor law, then the NLRB must decide who is eligible to vote, the type of election to be held (manual vs. mail), the timing of the election, and other arrangements.

We will continue to keep you updated as additional information becomes available. Have a safe and happy holiday season.

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