Students Against Duke Unionization Risks and uncertainties about the formation of a Duke graduate student union

Overview of SEIU

Service Employees International Union is a labor union representing 2-million workers in the following trades: healthcare, property services and public servicesAs of November 2016, SEIU has never represented graduate students. With respect to SEIU's experience at Duke, it was only last February that non-regular rank faculty within Trinity College for Arts & Sciences, the Center for Documentary Studies, and the Graduate School have come together to form a union. The University and SEIU reached an agreement to exclude all regular rank, non-tenure track faculty (including PoPs, Research Professors and Lecturers) from the potential bargaining unit.

Duke unionization and SEIU

While there are concerns about graduate student unionization in general, there are serious apprehensions to unionizing with SEIU, something that would be difficult to reverse. Here are some of our initial findings:

  1. Unlike every other union, SEIU will not grant us a local charter--in other words, Duke students won't have our own local. We cannot elect our own officers and we cannot decide how to spend a cent of our own dues money. Having a local gives us a way to have a say in our own union. Without one, SEIU largely can ignore us. SEIU has the constitutional authority to merge us with any other workers it chooses. (See Article XIV, Sections 3 & 4 (pg 25-26) in the SEIU constitution. The adjunct faculty at Northeastern only make up 7% of their "local," which is primarily composed of healthcare workers. 
  2. SEIU has the constitutional authority to tax us to pay for their political operations. See Article XV, Section 18 (pg 31-32) in the SEIU constitution. This is a significant operation of SEIU's and results in millions of dollars going towards PACs and political campaigns each year. According to the Center for Responsive Politics, SEIU donated the largest amount of money out of any organization (company, union, etc.) over the course of their historical data, nearly $240 Million.
  3. It is nearly impossible to decertify from SEIU. They will use their massive resources to punish you. Notably example, National Union of Healthcare Workers, and a warning from members of the labor activist community about SEIU. In other words, once we join, we are stuck.
  4. In a recent court proceeding, SEIU was forced to release a "Contract Campaign Manual." This "manual" is a collection of intimidation tactics for forcing businesses to back-down any opposition when negotiating union contracts. We have seen some of these strategies used already on the Duke administration and SADU.

Open letter to Duke students from a former SEIU steward

"I never thought I would ever say this but I feel it is my moral duty to do so: Workers are better off with no union than to be with SEIU.

I was a worker and a union member at Alta Bates/Summit Medical Center in California for over 40 years. I believe workers should have a union but I didn’t like that SEIU began to represent the interests of management instead of the interests of workers. I wanted my union to be a strong union so I spoke up. I was constructive in my criticism. That didn’t work so I rallied my co-workers to oppose SEIU’s on-going willingness to bargain away our hard earned benefits. Our members’ calls for change and even for representation went unanswered. Nothing came of our complaints but SEIU continued to collect monthly dues.

I guess I was too much of a thorn in their side. SEIU colluded with my Boss and got me fired—after so many years of dedicated service, I was out of a job. SEIU did nothing. SEIU was happy; my Boss was happy. It was sad that SEIU had been interested in only one thing all along: dues! They do not allow constructive criticism and they are never there when you need them. SEIU is a mistake—a big mistake for workers."

        - Longtime union activist and former SEIU steward, Beverly Griffith