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Trevor Rickerd, a doctoral student in biology at Illinois State University, leads a group of graduate students to Hovey Hall in February to ask ISU to recognize their membership in the Service Employees International Union.

NORMAL — Graduate student assistants at Illinois State University have voted in favor of joining Service Employees International Union Local 73 to represent them.

The election was conducted by the Illinois Educational Labor Relations Board on Thursday, but the results will not be official until the election is certified later this week.

Two hundred people voted, with 160 voting in favor of representation by the SEIU and 36 voting for no representation, according to Eileen Brennan, a spokeswoman for the labor relations board. Four ballots were challenged, but the challenge did not have to be resolved because the four votes would not affect the outcome, she explained.

About 500 graduate assistants will be represented by the union.

Graduate research assistants will not be part of the union and are prohibited from unionizing under state law. Senate Bill 2546, which would have extended the right to unionize to graduate research assistants, was vetoed in April by Gov. Bruce Rauner.

University spokesman Eric Jome said Monday: “The university will begin meeting with the union. I don't know the timeline for that.”

He said: “We negotiate a lot of different contracts with various unions. That's nothing new.”

Trevor Rickerd, a Ph.D candidate in biology who has been involved in organizing the union at ISU, said Monday, “It's going to take a couple of months to finalize everything” and form a negotiating committee and determine what to seek in the contract with the university.

During discussions about forming a union, many issues came up, from concerns about the physical condition of their workplaces to a desire for dental and vision insurance coverage, said Rickerd.

“In the end of the day, it came down to pay,” he said.

“A lot of times, people are pigeonholed in their department” and don't speak to many people beyond, Rickerd said. It wasn't until the graduate students started talking between departments that they realized they were facing many of the same issues, he said.

In forming a union, the graduate students at ISU are following the path of others elsewhere in the state, according to Rickerd.

Graduate students at the University of Illinois are represented by unions on the Urbana-Champaign, Springfield and Chicago campuses.

The union at Urbana-Champaign is the oldest, having been recognized in 2003. Members of that union reached a five-year contract earlier this year but only after a two-week-long strike.

Graduate students at Southern Illinois University at Carbondale have had a union since 2006. Their current agreement is in effect through June 30, 2019.

A news release from Service Employees Union International said the vote at ISU “adds to the growing momentum for graduate workers, the teaching and research assistants who work for the university while pursuing their doctorates and master's degrees, who have mounted organizing campaigns across the country.”

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Contact Lenore Sobota at (309) 820-3240. Follow her on Twitter: @Pg_Sobota


Education Reporter

Education Reporter for The Pantagraph.

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