Higher Education Might Be Broken, But Unions Are Not The Solution

by | Apr 25, 2024 | CWA, Education, Industry, Labor Relations Ink, Labor Relations Insight, SEIU, UAW, Union Organizing, Unions

Like the rest of us, student workers at universities are feeling the rising cost of living. Their experience is likely heightened by the crush of increasingly expensive tuition in 2024. Unions, however, will not solve the problems that student workers face—quite the opposite, as it turns out.

As we have previously detailed, a wild assortment of unions have gone poaching in higher ed to capitalize upon understandable Gen Z frustrations. It’s concerning to see these workers still willing to place their faith in Big Labor despite sellout deals and broken promises that follow.

Sadly, reality is waiting in the wings. Let’s take a look at recent higher-ed union activity of note:

  • Princeton University became the final Ivy League institution to see graduate students file for a union election. If successful, they will join the United Electrical, Radio, and Machine Workers.
  • Marquette University workers are beginning to organize (for the second time) to try and join the Communication Workers of America.
  • The University of San Diego’s non-tenure track instructors, including visiting professors and adjuncts, filed for a vote to join the SEIU.
  • Harvard University’s labor situation is mixed. This month, non-tenure faculty overwhelmingly voted to join the UAW. However, the Harvard Union of Residential Advisors (RAs) launch has divided workers, with many expressing skepticism ahead of a vote. Some RAs alleged that the union had used intimidation tactics and deceptively poor communication while organizing workers.
  • Boston University grad students went on strike in late March and were joined by Boston University Residence Life workers after SEIU contract negotiations ended. A progressive publication called out the union for refusing to accept the university’s reasonable salary bump offer even though current grad-student funding will not cover the union’s salary demands, leading to fewer available jobs and perks for these grad students.

That reality has been rearing its head elsewhere after unions targeted higher-ed workers. After the UAW’s 2023 University of California strikes, UC began to cut graduate admissions programs and eliminate student-worker positions to make ends meet due to higher labor costs. At Philadelphia’s Temple University, striking grad students were deemed ineligible for free tuition since the university could no longer afford that $20,000 annual benefit following a new union contract.

In the above cases, workers got the shaft while unions received their dues money. Unions are attractive to students, but they don’t consistently deliver what they promise, and unions are not the key to fixing complex systemic issues as these students are learning.

INK Newsletter