UAW Goes On Campus To Find New Members

Graduate students in California boost union membership numbers

The United Automobile Workers union, or UAW, appears to be gaining new members by organizing graduate research students at colleges, according to a recent article in the Detroit Free Press.

The majority of the postdoctoral researchers and what the article calls “academic student workers” in the UAW – 33,000 of them – are based at the University of California, California State University and Lawrence Berkeley National Lab. Other student workers and researchers are based in Washington, Massachusetts, New York and Connecticut.

Academic student workers are defined as full- and part-time graduate student workers, adjunct professors and some support staff such as maintenance workers. According to the article, about 20,000 of these academic workers have joined the union since 2010.

The growth in the number of union-organized student workers and researchers bolsters the union through dues paid to UAW’s international headquarters in Detroit.

ForTheRecord says: While organizing graduate, doctoral and even postdoctoral students doing research has helped the UAW grow in some states, it won’t do that in Michigan, at least when it comes to students who get a stipend to conduct research.

In March 2012 Gov. Rick Snyder signed legislation clarifying that in Michigan, graduate students at public universities who work as research assistants are legally considered to be students and not employees.

So while graduate students teaching undergraduate classes or serving as a teaching assistant can be unionized, research assistants cannot.

Snyder’s signature affectively ended a lawsuit filed by the Mackinac Center Legal Foundation on behalf of graduate students who were research assistants at the University of Michigan. Both the Mackinac Center Legal Foundation and Michigan Capitol Confidential are projects of the Mackinac Center for Public Policy.

While the UAW has seen modest growth since 2010, with the union’s total membership growing by more than 60,000 between 2010 and 2016, its total membership is still well below the 701,818 members it had in 2001, according to union reports filed with the U.S. Department of Labor.