Ph.D. students are one step closer to entering union contract negotiations with Emory University after The National Labor Relations Board (NLRB) officially certified Laney Graduate School (LGS) students’ unionization election results this morning.

This comes after the NLRB released the results of the union election on Nov. 28. Laney doctoral students voted in favor of unionization in a 909 to 73 vote, making Emory the first private university in Georgia to have a graduate-worker union and the second in the South.

Close to 70 Ph.D. students gathered in Goodrich C. White Hall on Nov. 30 to celebrate the win for EmoryUnite!, LGS’ newly-official union. Students congratulated each other on the results of their October election as they found their seats and discussed what they hoped to see on a contract with Emory next fall.

EmoryUnite! was founded by Laney’s graduate students in 2016 and led the initiative to secure NLRB recognition. Laney Ph.D. students will now join Workers United, which is part of the Service Employees International Union (SEIU). 

Laney Graduate School Students gathered in Goodrich C. White Hall on Nov. 30 to celebrate students voting in favor of unionization. (Ilah Ross/Staff Writer)

EmoryUnite! co-chair David Meer (27G) began last week’s meeting by going over the election results and explaining what comes next. Now that the NLRB has certified the results, graduate student-workers will begin to see immediate benefits, such as Weingarten rights, Meer said.

The NLRB defines Weingarten rights as the right to request legal representation during an investigative interview with one’s employer. At Emory, Meer said that this means that Laney students will have the right to a union representative in disciplinary action meetings or expulsion meetings.

Once EmoryUnite! forms a collective bargaining unit, the group can negotiate a contract with the University. Meer explained that this contract will remain in place for three years, at which point the union and University will be able to renegotiate the contract.

“Now that this election is won, we need to actually sit down with Emory,” Meer said to attendees at the Nov. 30 event. “We need to say, ‘What do we want? How are we going to write this down? What are our priorities in policy?’”

Meer noted that the frequent renewal times will allow more students to have a say as to what is on their contract during their time at Emory.

After the election results were released on Nov. 28, Provost and Executive Vice President of Academic Affairs Ravi Bellamkonda wrote in an email to Ph.D. students that the University “respects the outcome of the vote” and that the Emory administration is “committed to bargaining in good faith with the Union as your representative consistent with our mission, vision and values.”  

Throughout the event, Meer stressed that EmoryUnite! is looking for a diverse group of individuals to comprise the bargaining unit, which he hopes will be in place by January.

“We need a group of people that can represent as many different corners of the graduate worker world, of the LGS world, as we can get,” Meer said. “We want people from every department, we want people from every year, we want people who may just be older or younger.”

Mujahid Osman (25G), a doctoral candidate in West and South Asian religions, was in the crowd at the Nov. 30 event. Osman said he appreciated EmoryUnite!’s focus on including a diversity of students in their efforts to unionize.

“A lot of the issues that are being addressed are quite intersectional,” Osman said. “They affect people in different ways and the union has been very attentive to how different students from different backgrounds have different challenges and how they need to negotiate within the system.”

Leadership positions within the union will have fairly brief terms with frequent turnover to ensure that the union is representing both current and incoming Ph.D. students, not just those who have been at Emory the longest, EmoryUnite! co-chair Nadia Raytselis (27G) said. Meer wrote in an email to the Wheel that they will decide the length of these terms during contract negotiations this spring.

Meer encouraged every student to register as a paying member of the union. EmoryUnite! will charge around the standard due rate for Ph.D. workers, Meer said, which is between 1% and 2% of their total pay. 

Even as a formally-recognized union, Georgia’s right-to-work law poses a challenge to student participation in EmoryUnite!, according to Meer. Right-to-work laws allow any individual eligible for a union to opt out of the group and not pay dues. In total, 27 states have passed right-to-work laws, which critics argue weaken union power and funding.

EmoryUnite! co-chair Jerik Leung (27G) followed Meer’s remarks by surveying students about the issues they hope to see addressed on a contract.

Attendees brought up many issues in the survey, such as getting rid of student fees, improving housing support for international students, establishing grievance procedures for issues with advisers, mandating Title IX and mentoring training for principal investigators, including union representatives in the human resources department, defining a clear protocol for students switching advisers, improving access to MARTA and shuttle services and subsidizing housing.

As the event ended, SEIU Workers United Director for Florida and Georgia Mark Wilerson told graduate students that he is committed to getting students “the best contract, the first contract.”  

“We’re gonna be right beside you each and every step of the way,” Wilkerson said to the students.

EmoryUnite! Organizer Dez Miller (26G), a doctoral candidate in comparative literature, said the event was encouraging for the upcoming negotiation process.

“I’m walking out with an even greater sense of excitement about where this even is gonna go and our potential to get a great contract,” Miller said.

Contributing Writer | + posts

Ilah Ross (she/her, 27C) is from the Bay Area in California, and is planning to major in creative writing and philosophy, politics and law. Outside of The Wheel, she is involved with TEDxEmory, JLaw and loves to go hiking with friends.