Graduate students at Northeastern University in Boston have voted to unionize, with 94 percent voting to join the United Auto Workers following a three-day voting period that ended Thursday, according to the union.
Nearly 3,000 research and teaching assistants at the university now will be represented by the Graduate Employees of Northeastern University-United Auto Workers union, or GENU-UAW, union officials said in a statement.
The vote was 1,130 in favor to 70 opposed in an election that was overseen by the National Labor Relations Board, the statement said.
The vote makes Northeastern graduate students the latest in the Boston area to join the auto workers union, which has chapters at campuses across the country, including Harvard.
“We’re absolutely ecstatic! It’s taken a lot of work to get to this historic moment,” Niki Thomas, a grad worker and GENU-UAW member, said in the statement. “We love our research and want to make sure that graduate careers at Northeastern are sustainable. A union will help us make the critical changes that are needed so that we can make this university a stronger and more equitable institution. Specifically, we’re looking to fight for increased and fair wages, comprehensive health benefits, expanded resources for international workers, and protections against discrimination and harassment.”
Graduate workers are “fundamental” to the university’s educational and research mission, performing cutting-edge research, teaching classes, and grading papers, yet earn “just $26,000 a year, or are paid minimum wage,” the statement said.
Calls for a union started in 2016, according to the university’s student newspaper, The Huntington News, but the school “administration’s refusal to voluntarily recognize the union or support a union election stymied graduate organizers for years.”
Just days ago, the university filed a legal motion attempting to reverse a decision by the regional National Labor Relations Board allowing this week’s election to be held, the union’s statement said.
In a statement Friday, a Northeastern official congratulated the students and said the university is preparing to take the next steps in the collective bargaining process.
“Northeastern applauds those students who took the time to participate in the election,” Renata Nyul, vice president of communications at Northeastern University, said in a statement to the Globe. “Now that voting has concluded, we will move to the next phase of this process, which will include negotiations to reach a collective bargaining agreement.”
The graduate workers expect the federal board to uphold the decision and certify the election, but the process could delay the university and union from proceeding with negotiations toward a collective bargaining agreement, the statement said.
“Today’s vote is the result of dozens of volunteers helping organize,” Hunter Moskowitz, a grad worker and GENU-UAW member, said in the statement. “Since we began our campaign, the need for a union has grown. It’s disappointing that the Northeastern administration is choosing to try to subvert the democratic decision that we made today, but we know the Board will ultimately uphold this incredible election. Northeastern needs to drop this appeal and agree to bargain, rather than obstructing what we have deemed to be necessary improvement. We look forward to sitting down with the university to begin addressing these issues through a strong first contract.”
UAW represents 100,000 higher ed workers across the country, including graduate students at Columbia, Boston University, Johns Hopkins, Worcester Polytechnic Institute, and others, the statement said.
“We’re excited to welcome Northeastern University graduate workers into the UAW family,” said Brandon Mancilla, director of UAW Region 9A, which covers New England, New York City, and Puerto Rico. “It has been inspiring to watch these workers stand up together in the face of intense university efforts to intimidate and break their resolve. Now that they have voted decisively for their union, we can’t wait to get to work with them on building a campaign to bring Northeastern to the bargaining table to win what they deserve in their first union contract.”
Graduate students at Harvard University voted to unionize in 2018. The Harvard Graduate Students Union-United Auto Workers Local 5118 has since been able to negotiate labor contracts with raised wages and expanded health care benefits.
Globe correspondent Maggie Scales contributed to this report.