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Duke University doctoral students unionize

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Dive Brief:

  • Duke University’s doctoral students overwhelmingly voted to unionize, 1,000-131, they announced Tuesday.
  • The students will be represented by Southern Region Workers United, a branch of the prominent Service Employees International Union, or SEIU. Duke had fought against a union, arguing to the National Labor Relations Board that its graduate workers were not employees.
  • “Duke has always cared deeply about our graduate students,” Provost Alec Gallimore said in a statement Tuesday. “We look forward to working with representatives from Southern Region Workers United on the shared goal of making the graduate experience at Duke the very best it can be.”

Dive Insight:

Duke graduate students tried to unionize in 2017, but a vote failed. The NLRB had enabled the vote, finding the prior year that graduate students who work as teaching or research assistants at private colleges have collective bargaining rights.

The university’s graduate workers mounted a similar effort this year to unionize, though Duke attempted to block it in arguments to the NLRB.

However, last month the NLRB sided with the Duke doctoral students. 

“I find that PhD students who provide instructional services in undergraduate or graduate-level courses or labs and who are compensated by and subject to the direction and control of Duke University are employees within the meaning” of the National Labor Relations Act, Lisa Henderson, NLRB regional director, wrote in the July 10 ruling.

Duke doctoral students celebrated on X, the social media platform formerly known as Twitter.

“This is just the beginning,” they wrote. “We’re excited to begin bargaining our first contract with Duke in good faith and secure dignified working conditions for graduate workers.”



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