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Congressman Mark Pocan

Representing the 2nd District of Wisconsin

Pocan Introduces Bill to Protect Grad Students Right to Unionize

Nov 14, 2019
Press Release

Washington, D.C. – U.S. Rep. Mark Pocan (WI-02), today introduced the Respect Graduate Student Workers Act, which prohibits the National Labor Relations Board (NLRB) from enacting their proposed rule which would strip graduate student workers’ right to unionize, Jurisdiction-Nonemployee Status of University and College Students Working in Connection With Their Studies.

The new bill seeks to ensure the full labor protections for graduate student workers—no matter the educational relationship between graduate student workers and a college or university.  The Trump-appointed NLRB has sought to prevent graduate workers at private colleges and universities from unionizing, with a rule that attempts to define them as students only. These graduate employees teach coursework, conduct research, assist professors, and perform other revenue-generating work in conjunction with their studies. They deserve the right to form a union and collectively bargain, just as every worker in every industry deserves.

“This administration’s most recent attempt to erode the rights of workers comes in the shape of an attack on graduate student workers who balance education with work for their schools,” said Rep. Mark Pocan. “Graduate workers are a vital part of teaching and research in colleges and universities and should have an equal voice in that workplace. Stripping them of their rights to unionize is a blatant attempt to profit off the backs of graduate students without giving them their due. It’s time we give all workers the right to fight for a living wage.”

"As a graduate worker who struggles to make ends meet, I am very grateful Rep. Pocan is standing with us in our fight for change, said Tom Hansberger, a Marquette University graduate student worker. “All working people should have the right to join together and have a voice in their union."

Like many things in the labor movement, graduate student unions have their historical home in Wisconsin. The Teaching Assistant’s Association is the oldest graduate employee union in the country, turning 50 years old this year. That movement has grown to over 60 recognized graduate student unions across the country. These unions have given graduate student workers the power to collectively bargain, improving their pay and benefits—including a lower reliance on student loans, better workplace protections and broader health insurance.

Graduate students who are working while enrolled in school deserve a living wage. The NLRB’s new rule is just this administration’s most recent attempt to dismantle the labor movement and gut worker power in the workplace. Graduate student workers are no different than employees anywhere else—and we cannot silence their voices in the workplace.

The bill is endorsed by the Service Employees International Union (SEIU) and the American Federation of Teachers (AFT). Both unions represent graduate student workers on campuses across the country.