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University of Maine graduate union receive certification

Last week, the University of Maine graduate union received its certification from the Maine Labor Relations Board.

The Maine Graduate Workers Union-UAW was certified on Friday after an independent arbitrator decided that it had major support from graduate workers. The certification was announced by the Maine AFL-CIO. This all began back in August when bargaining began between the union and the University of Maine system after the university agreed it would recognize the union.

“Today, after years of discussion and months of organizing, we are thrilled to announce that we have won our union. The University of Maine administration did the right thing by agreeing to recognize our union through a majority sign-on process, and the majority has spoken. Based on the strong support that exists across campus and among faculty, legislators and community leaders, we are excited about the very real prospect of beginning negotiations for a strong first contract,” said Remi Geohegan, a second-year Ph.D. student and teaching assistant in the Graduate School of Biomedical Science and Engineering at the University of Maine to the Bangor Daily News this week regarding the decision.

Graduate workers first expressed the need for union recognition back in March when they voiced concerns about wages and health benefits as well as needing to be listened to more by the university. They made it clear to the university that they felt that they were not being compensated as fairly as their counterparts at other institutions.

“Our work powers the educational and research mission of the university and was instrumental in UMaine receiving the status of an R1-rated research university. In short, UMaine works because we do,” said Em Sowles, a fourth-year Ph.D. candidate and research assistant in the physics department to the Bangor Daily News this past week. “But for too long, we have struggled with low and inconsistent pay, substandard health benefits, and the need for a voice at work. Today, we are proud to have formally secured a seat at the table so we can begin to improve our working lives through legally enforceable contracts.”

Roughly 1,000 graduate, teaching and research assistants will be represented by the union. They comprise most of the research and teaching staff across the University of Maine’s statewide campuses. Their demand for recognized unionization comes as part of a new and recent wave of grad students demanding better treatment from their institutions. UMaine now follows in the footsteps of several other schools that have taken the plunge, such as Columbia University, Harvard University, the University of Alaska, the University of Connecticut and Worcester Polytechnic Institute.

The University of Maine currently offers 152 graduate programs where students might have the opportunity to earn a graduate certification, master’s degree, C.A.S., Ed.S. or doctorate degree. Back in November of 2022, the University of Maine celebrated a new record for enrollment in doctoral programs, with 554 out of 2,457 graduate students in total. During the prior academic year, 84 doctoral degrees and 695 master’s and specialist degrees were conferred. This marked a three-year winning streak for the University in terms of increasing graduate enrollment. This could be accredited to expanded marketing and recruitment efforts nationally and globally.

While most graduate certification programs are only offered online, most other grad programs are offered on campus or in combination. For graduate students interested in research opportunities at the University of Maine, access to interdisciplinary collaborations with partnering organizations and 16 major research centers and institutes with over 100 individual laboratories is offered.

“The Board of Trustees respects the many contributions graduate students make every day to advance the teaching , research and public service mission of UMS. We face many challenges given the demographic and budget realities we face and look forward to constructive engagement between UMS and the graduate student union. We congratulate graduate students for their hard work to make their union a reality,” said Board of Trustees Chair Trish Riley.

As of this year, the University of Maine will be celebrating the centennial anniversary of its graduate school. As the Land, Sea and Space Grant institution for the state, UMaine at Orono has much to offer its students and the state of Maine. Those interested in sharing how their time at grad school at UMaine positively impacted their lives can do so at the “Share Your Story” section of the homepage of the Graduate School Centennial website. You can also explore the history behind this milestone and related events and learn the impact it has had on the education of the state’s citizens.

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