Hundreds of UMaine Graduate Workers Rally as a Majority Have Signed Cards to Form a Union / by Andy O’Brien

photo credit: Maine AFL-CIO news

Originally published in Maine AFL-CIO Weekly Update on March 31, 2023

Last week, graduate workers with the University of Maine Graduate Workers Union-UAW announced that a majority of workers have signed cards supporting the union and that they intend to engage the administration in collective bargaining, joining other UMaine System employees and tens of thousands of graduate workers across the country. Workers cited ongoing issues around low and inconsistent pay, substandard health benefits and the need for a voice at work as reasons for their collective action.

The workers are asking the UMaine System to agree to a fair and expeditious process to verify that a majority of graduate workers have signed on in support of the union and to recognize the union so that they can start the process of bargaining for a contract.

“My pay has been tremendously inconsistent,” said graduate worker Anthony Piña. “In my four years here, there have been errors with my pay more semesters than not. Whether it be that paperwork was submitted late or incorrectly by my department, or in one case paperwork sitting on someone’s desk in the payroll department for months, the issue of getting paid the correct amount has been persistent, and at times distressing as I don’t usually know there is an issue until I’ve received the incorrect amount of money at the end of the month.”

“I rely on the university health insurance not only to cover me, but also my husband who requires life-saving blood-thinner medication,” said graduate worker Vendy Hazuková. “Despite always paying for the UMaine insurance on time (the deadline is before we receive our September paychecks!), we have experienced a lapse in coverage every single year, some years lasting for 3-4 months. We need quality, reliable health insurance in our graduate worker stipend packages.”

photo credit: Maine AFL-CIO news

There are roughly 1,000 graduate workers in the University of Maine system who make up a large percentage of the overall teaching and research workforce. Their work powers the educational and research mission of the University, and was instrumental in UMaine receiving the status of an R1 rated research university. In short, UMaine works because they do. 

Graduate workers at UMaine join tens of thousands of academic workers across the country who have organized with UAW in recent years, including workers at Worcester Polytechnic Institute, University of Alaska, University of Connecticut, Harvard, Columbia, and many more.

Andy O’Brien is the communications director for the Maine AFL-CIO, a statewide federation of 160 local unions representing 40,000 workers. However, his opinions are his own and don’t represent the views of his employer. He is also a member of United Food and Commercial Workers Local 1445.