OPINION: Steffen: Unionization means surrendering the entire college experience to Bernie Sanders
Senator Bernie Sanders officially announced his backing of graduate students at the University of Chicago, who are attempting to unionize. The grad students, PhD and Masters students, want the school to pay them salaries, provide free healthcare, and give the union the ability to decide who receives scholarship and admission.
Bernie Sanders went to undergrad at the University of Chicago, and has taken a keen interest in pushing for the unionization of students at multiple campuses across the nation. In his latest move, the Senator wrote an open letter to the would-be union, “Graduate Students United,” praising the long history of unions as supporters of progressive, and overtly socialist causes.
Senator Sanders wrote, “it is not my intention to tell you how to vote” in the upcoming referendum on creating a union. However, he warned that all opponents of unionization wish to impose, “all the decisions unilaterally.”
He wrote, “What forming a union means is that you and your co-workers will have the opportunity to sit down as legal equals with management to negotiate a legally binding contract covering all aspects of your wages, benefits, and working conditions.”
The Vermont senator and a former Democratic presidential candidate wrote in his letter that, “Nationally, the unionized workers make wages that are on average 27% more than non-union workers, with significantly better benefits and working conditions.” And added that, “I respect the critical work you do every day, and wish you the very best in your efforts to create a democratic workplace where your voice can really be heard.”
The organization “Graduate Students Union” has been pushing – some would say harassing – students, faculty and staff since 2007, in their bid to seize complete control of the bargaining and contract making of all the grad students at the Chicago University campus. The group claims about 2,500 individuals on campus as supporters, including teacher’s assistants (TAs) and lecturers. This would be the first ever union of its type, if it is formed.
There have been attempts at unionization at other colleges, like Northwestern, Princeton, Cornell, and Brown. However, administrators at the University of Chicago – and elsewhere – are warning that the 3rd party interference that Unionization necessarily entails could in fact destroy the student’s and school’s academic autonomy. They also warn that unionization will harm student’s academic relationships with their faculty mentors and teachers.
Worries about free speech are also concerned that the influence that the union would wield over admissions and scholarship programs would destroy or completely politicize academic freedom. Students opposed to the union are concerned that they will not be able to afford the exorbitant union dues, and will face retaliation and backlash because of it.
Universities which have faced attempts at unionization have also worried that these unionized TAs would be forced to participate in any strikes that may occur, leaving the undergraduate classrooms suddenly abandoned disrupting the education process. In essence, unionization means surrendering the entire college experience to Bernie Sanders.