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Graduate student workers seek to form union at UNH

UNH in Durham
Dan Tuohy
/
NHPR
University of New Hampshire in Durham.

Graduate students who simultaneously work for the University of New Hampshire in teaching and research positions are seeking to collectively bargain for better living and working conditions on campus.

In a Jan. 5 letter to UNH President James Dean, members of the UNH Graduate Employees United said the union was formed to “negotiate for improvements that not only enhance our living and working conditions as graduate student workers but also enhance our ability to contribute to academic and research excellence at UNH.”

The union is seeking voluntary recognition from the school, and believes an “overwhelming majority” of its members support the effort.

Tania deLuzuriaga, a UNH spokesperson, said the school "just got notification of the unionization effort and cannot offer further comment at this time."

Jed Siebert, a PhD student studying forestry, said graduate student stipends — which range from $22,140 to $24,560 — are failing to keep up with cost of living in the region, where housing is particularly expensive. International students may also be unable to pursue jobs off-campus due to visa restrictions, further tightening their ability to meet basic needs.

“UNH continuing to be a competitive option for people who want to go to graduate school, I think will only benefit the community,” Siebert said in an interview Monday.

Siebert said the graduate students are also seeking a voice in decision-making by the school.

“I’m doing this not because I want to fight the university,” he said. “I’m doing this because I really like it here, and I want other people to be able to enjoy it, too.”

Student workers across a range of disciplines —from economics to English, history to physics — signed on to the organizing letter. It isn’t clear when the proposed bargaining unit may vote on the issue. According to Siebert, there are an estimated 700 graduate student workers on the Durham campus.

The unionization push at UNH is part of a wave of similar graduate student organizing at both public and private universities in recent years.

In 2022, graduate student workers at Dartmouth won a union election, and are still negotiating an initial contract. Last fall, the graduate student workers across the University of Maine’s system unionized. Student workers at UCONN and the University of Vermont have also unionized.

Editor's note: This story was updated at 6:20 p.m. on Jan. 8 to include a statement from a UNH spokesperson.

Todd started as a news correspondent with NHPR in 2009. He spent nearly a decade in the non-profit world, working with international development agencies and anti-poverty groups. He holds a master’s degree in public administration from Columbia University. He can be reached at tbookman@nhpr.org.
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