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UMaine Graduate Workers to be Presented with 2024 Solidarity Award

Andy O’Brien
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PHOTO: Maine Graduate Workers at the 2024 Labor Lobby Day in Augusta.

We are proud to present the 2024 Solidarity Award to the University of Maine Graduate Workers, UAW for doing deep organizing to win their union, fight for a first contract and to build a better university for everyone. After years of discussion and months of organizing, the graduate workers unionized last October using a process known as majority sign-up in which the university agreed to recognize the union once the arbitrator verified that a majority signed cards.

The new unit represents 1,000 graduate workers across all campuses of the University of Maine System who make up a large percentage of the overall teaching and research workforce. They have joined tens of thousands of academic workers across the country who have organized in recent years.

Graduate worker organizers put in countless hours on top of research, teaching, and administrative duties to build their union. In announcing their union drive in March, 2023, the workers expressed frustration with low wages that have not caught up with the cost of living and lack of quality health insurance. One member with type 1 diabetes described how he struggled to pay for an insulin pump to manage his blood glucose because the university’s health plan doesn’t cover it.

“By building a union, graduate workers —  whose work earned UMaine its R1 Research Institution status, whose work drives the UMS teaching mission, and whose work keeps the university running, and the many other roles grad work plays — we can demand and WIN improvements to our working conditions, compensation, health care coverage, and so much more,” the union said in a statement at the time.

The UMaine Graduate Workers spent more than a year engaging with labor councils, speaking to elected officials and circulating petitions to pressure the UMaine administration to voluntarily recognize the union and negotiate a fair contract. In winning their union, the workers cited strong support across campus, and among faculty, legislators and community leaders.

The workers are currently still in negotiations and they continue to press the administration address ongoing issues around low and inconsistent pay, substandard health benefits, protections for international graduate student workers and more. They remain steadfast and determined to win their first contract. For their hard work and solidarity they are an inspiration to us all.