By Joe Killian

August 22, 2023

Ph.D students at Duke University in Durham voted overwhelmingly in favor of unionizing Tuesday, the result of a years-long campaign to bargain collectively with the university. When the election is certified, the graduate student workers will form the first graduate union at a private university in the South and one of the largest unions in North Carolina.

“I’m thrilled to see graduate workers at Duke come together for this union victory,” said Jaeyeon Yoo, Union co-secretary and third year student in Literature, in a statement Tuesday. “Graduate workers made sure their ballots were in and their voices were heard. That’s because our needs – things like a living wage, grievance procedures, and comprehensive healthcare – cannot wait!”

As NC Newsline reported earlier this year, a majority of the university’s approximately 2,500 Ph.D. student workers signed union authorization cards, declaring their desire to join Service Employees International Union Southern Region Local 27. The university declined to voluntarily recognize the union, leading graduate workers to file for a National Labor Relations Board (NLRB) election.

When mail-in votes were tallied Tuesday, 88%of ballots were in favor of the union – 1,000 votes for the union to just 131 against.

“PhD students are our colleagues, and I’m delighted to have DGSU join the family of unions here at Duke,” said Nancy MacLean, William H. Chafe Professor of History and Public Policy, in a statement Tuesday. “Duke works because its workers – including graduate students – do, and I am certain that better working conditions for them will enhance the undergraduate experience and improve the university for all of us who learn, teach, and work here.”