We remain united for a better Duke

Dear Colleagues,

Since our campaign began, Duke has opted to battle us in the courtroom rather than listen to our voices. Despite a National Labor Relations Board ruling that we are workers and deserve rights, Dean McClain argued from the outset that we are not employees of the university. Duke’s lawyers went on to pick any legal fight they could in order to help run out the clock before President Trump fills the NLRB with anti-labor Republicans. The administration’s petty legal strategy culminated just hours before the election, when they successfully petitioned for hundreds of ballots to be impounded, depriving many graduate students of a vote.

We will continue to oppose Duke’s silencing tactics, but after careful consideration we have realized we can not effectively reform Duke from within a courtroom. Legal challenges to the University’s union busting would take months if not years to resolve. Simply put, right now we cannot meaningfully challenge the Duke administration within a legal structure that plays to the interests of money, power, and influence. This is not a decision to quit fighting – rather, it is a recognition that the source of our strength is not lawyers or litigation, but our collective knowledge, power and experience as graduate student workers.

Fundamentally, a union is a group of workers joining together to improve their work experience. Over the past months, graduate students from across departments and disciplines have done exactly that. Hundreds of us – many of whom knew little about unions to begin with – discovered how our graduate experiences could be improved through collective action. We learned to speak openly about our grievances and to think constructively about how to address them. The energy and momentum that we unleashed has already transformed our campus, and it will continue.

There are many examples of unions having an enormous impact even where they are not formally recognized. The North Carolina Association of Educators has for years fought for the interests of public schoolteachers, even as state law forbids them from collective bargaining. Likewise, the graduate student union at the University of Chicago has won major victories without NLRB recognition. We aspire to that model, and wholeheartedly believe we can succeed in effecting change – and indeed can pioneer a path for innovative labor organizing in the right-to-work South.

During the election we asked you to fill out a bargaining survey and we still hope to gather as many responses as possible so we know what to prioritize as we move forward.  And if you are interested in deepening your involvement, please contact us at dukegradunion@gmail.com.

In solidarity,

Duke Graduate Students Union Organizing Committee


Fact-checking the Duke FAQ website



As graduate students, we’re trained to look for inaccuracies and correct biased information when we grade our students’ papers and conduct our own research. Sometimes we even have to evaluate what our colleagues publish. So when we saw the administration’s new website on unionization, we felt compelled to do just that: review it and make sure it provides unbiased and accurate information. … Read more

Our Union Election: An Update

Dear Colleague,

We’d like to offer a quick update on the current status of our union election. Unfortunately, we do not have final results to report.

Duke University administrators, through their lawyers, have questioned our well-established right to a union election and sought lengthy delays at nearly every step of the process — and that extended to Friday’s vote count.

The University challenged hundreds of ballots at the National Labor Relations Board office in Winston Salem on February 24, putting the results of our election, and many of our votes, in limbo. We are upset, but not surprised. More importantly we remain upbeat. Despite these indeterminate election results, we are determined to keep building our union, and to organize to raise standards on campus.

Over the past several months, many of us have worked very hard to build a real voice for ourselves and join with other graduate students around the country who are uniting with SEIU. This news doesn’t change the course we are on. We’ll keep fighting to build our union. We’re resolved to change the status quo by working with Duke faculty and graduate workers across the country to raise standards in higher education.

The fact that we have come this far, and seen as much unity and passion as we have over the past few months has been itself an inspiration. We’ve had the opportunity to talk to each other, to learn from each other, and to empathize with each others’ struggles. As we wait for the voting results, we remain united and full of hope.

Join us on Wednesday, March 1st as we rally for our vote and our future! We’ll gather outside the Allen Building at 4:15 pm with faculty, undergraduates and other supporters and mark the next chapter of our campaign, which is to demand that our voices be heard.

Finally, to those of you who had misgivings about forming a union. This is your union election, too, and we hope that you will agree with us — Duke University shouldn’t hide behind an anti-democratic legal strategy to silence our voices.

If you are interested in becoming actively involved in any way, please let us know.

In solidarity,

DGSU Organizing Committee

Durham City Council Members Support DGSU

We are grateful to receive so much support from our elected officials!

Durham City Council Members Jillian Johnson, Steve Schewel, and Charlie Reece have issued statements about our campaign to raise standards on our campus – and, in turn, in the broader Durham community.


BvcWicen.jpg“When I was in graduate school, I got pregnant. I didn’t receive the support I needed, and I ended up leaving the program. There were no protections. So I know personally that graduate students are workers and that unions are necessary. I’m excited to support this effort here in Durham and around the country.” -Jillian Johnson, Durham City Council



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“I want to offer my enthusiastic support to the Duke Graduate Students Union in the upcoming vote for unionization. The union can help Duke’s graduate assistants win fair wages and benefits–and that will benefit the entire Durham community.” -Steve Schewel, Durham City Council



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“I’m proud to stand with the Duke Graduate Students Union in their vote for unionization. By forming a union, Duke’s graduate assistants can speak with one voice in their negotiations with Duke University. And as they are successful in negotiating for higher wages and better benefits, the city of Durham will be the better for their efforts.” -Charlie Reece, Durham City Council


New Report: Our Union, Our Future

Graduate workers face many challenges in the changing higher education landscape. Across the country, we are uniting to face these challenges by fighting for a renewed commitment to quality, accessible higher duke-report-quotes_finaleducation that pays graduate
workers a living wage and generates more opportunities for all of our communities.

Read our new report to read about the union difference for graduate assistants:

  • Graduate unions lead to better pay, benefits, and lower fee levels.
  • Graduate students with a union have more affordable healthcare.
  • Unionized graduate assistants have won many other important benefits for economic security.
  • Unionized graduate assistants have greater protections from discrimination and harassment.
  • The union movement is an advocate for improved and transparent research funding.

Duke graduate workers want a strong organization to address a lack of voice and security on the job.

Read the report here.

Sixty percent of respondents to a survey of Duke graduate workers were “definitely interested” in joining together to form a union. Seventy-nine percent indicated that they view a role for a unified graduate worker and faculty voice in advocating for improved working conditions at Duke positively.

The higher education landscape is likely to be volatile over the next few years. By voting to form a union, Duke graduate workers can join a movement to elevate the voice of graduate workers, faculty, and other academic workers to improve their economic security, protections from discrimination and harassment, and increase public funding support for University-based research.

Read the new report “Our Union, Our Future” and commit to voting yes!

NC House members stand with Duke graduate students

Nine members of the North Carolina House of Representatives—Rep. Verla Insko, Rep. John Autry, Rep. Jean Farmer-Butterfield, Rep. Phillip A. Lehman, Rep. Greg R. Meyer, Rep. Garland E. Pierce, Rep. Shelly Willingham, Rep. Bobbie Richardson, and Rep. Susan C. Fisher—have written to President Brodhead, expressing their support for the Duke Graduate Students Union and asking the administration to take a neutral stance. We are grateful to receive support from our elected leaders!

Read their full letter below:

February 2, 2017
Office of the President
Duke University
207 Allen Building
Box 90001
Durham, North Carolina 27708-0001

Dear President Brodhead,

As a preeminent institution of higher education, Duke University is an important driver of research, education, and our economy in North Carolina. In part, the thousands of graduate student assistants who conduct research and teach courses at Duke enable this important work. As research assistants, they contribute to innovative inquiry that seeks to safeguard human health, revitalize our democracy, and spawn entrepreneurship. As teaching assistants and lead instructors, they mentor and inspire the next generation of leaders.

For all these reasons, we are encouraged by recent efforts by graduate students at Duke to join with a national movement of students and faculty uniting to improve higher education. The National Labor Relations Board’s recent decision to restore their right to collectively bargaining was a long time coming.

As graduate students at Duke exercise this right, we urge your administration to commit to the following:

  • Allow graduate students a free and fair process to form their union and collectively bargain without intimidation or threats;
  • Avoid any action that delays or interferes with the right to seek union representation or collectively bargain;
  • If a majority chooses union representation, begin negotiations in good faith without delay.

The collective bargaining process will allow Duke the opportunity to set standards for the larger region. Further, it will create a fair process for employees to improve working conditions and resolve disputes in a fashion that serves the teaching, learning, and research objectives of higher education.

We look forward to working with you on this important effort.

The following members added their signature by email:


Rep. Verla Insko
House District 56 – Orange County

Rep. John Autry
House District 100 – Mecklenburg

Rep. Jean Farmer-Butterfield
House District 24 – Pitt, Wilson

Rep. Philip A. Lehman
House District 30 – Durham

Rep. Graig R. Meyer
House District 50 – Durham, Orange

Rep. Garland E. Pierce
House District 48 – Hoke, Richmond, Robeson, Scotland

Rep. Shelly Willingham
House District 23 – Edgecombe, Martin

Rep. Bobbie Richardson
House District 7 – Franklin, Nash

Rep. Susan C. Fisher
House District 114- Buncombe