A troubled Mizzou faces another challenge this week; a group of graduate students voted to unionize all of the grad students at Mizzou. The University has said it will not recognize the election, viewing the process as more of an informal “straw poll.” While this election may not be valid, the question of whether grad students can unionize will ultimately come down to whether or not these students are employees.
There are cases for both sides. Graduate students are Mizzou students working toward a post-graduate degree, such as a Master’s or PhD. Many graduate students also receive a stipend so they can focus on their scholarly duties. In addition, many grad students assist the university in teaching undergraduate students. If grad students are employees, this stipend is pay for the teaching assistance they provide.
If grad students successfully redefine themselves as employees, then they can unionize and collectively bargain. Through collective bargaining and the threat of collectively withholding labor, grad students might be able to force the university to pay them a larger stipend. If their effort is successful, this will be the first time that graduate students at a public university in Missouri have unionized.
Successful grad student unionization could turn out to be another headache for a university that’s already laying people off to cope with declining enrollment. This could affect everyone; Mizzou is a government institution, and taxpayers ultimately foot the bill.