Graduate student workers rallied in support of unionizing at a rally on Syracuse University's campus on Tuesday, Jan. 17. Photo by Eddie Velazquez.

Syracuse University graduate students will vote on forming a union to represent grad workers this semester.

The election will take place over the course of two days at the SU campus and will be administered by the American Arbitration Association before April 14. A specific date is still being determined, said Amanda Beaving, a member of the Syracuse Graduate Employees United organizing group.

SGEU and grad workers are organizing with the help of the Service Employees International Union Local 200, which already represents facilities employees at SU.

A majority of the 1,200 grad workers will have to vote in favor for the National Labor Relations Board to certify the union.

In an agreement struck between SGEU and the university’s administration, announced Wednesday, Vice Chancellor Gretchen Ritter said in a statement the university is committed to a fair and equitable election process. For workers, this means the university is committing to not engaging in an anti-union campaign, which would include any unfair labor practices determined by the NLRB or delaying and threatening tactics against workers, the statement reads. 

“We have come so far in our campaign and I’m so proud of all of my coworkers for all the hard work we’ve put in,” said Beavin, who is a graduate assistant in the public administration program. “We are that much closer to winning improvements that will markedly improve all of our lives, our research, and our teaching. Now we just need to make sure everybody comes out to vote now so we can bargain our contract.”

Grad student workers seeking to unionize have previously stressed the need for liveable stipends. 

The minimum yearly stipend for graduate assistants in either a master’s or doctoral program is now $16,980. The stipend is meant to cover 20 hours of work per week for nine months.

SU has worked in recent years to address languishing salaries for grad students, officials said in a press release. Ritter has said previously the university is boosting stipends starting this fall. Minimum stipends for students in a master’s program would go up to $20,000, while baseline stipends for doctoral students would increase to $22,000. All schools and colleges will also increase stipends tied to assistantships by at least 5% on average.

Another pillar of the union campaign is affordable healthcare.

The annual rate for dental plans for graduate and teaching assistants cost students between $250 and $503, while the vision plan was almost $84 for the year.

The university is also committing to help students learn about voter eligibility guidelines. Ritter said there will be a union-management committee, made up of representatives from both Syracuse University and SGEU to answer inquiries and address concerns regarding the unionization process.

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