I started out on the fence. I wanted to hear more before I made up my mind. Having now listened to arguments for and against – as well as observed some of the tactics employed by those involved in the debate – I have decided to vote AGAINST unionization, for the following reasons.
My first reason is that I do not wish to be a member of the AFT. It is one thing to be a member of the GSU, which I can at least theoretically believe has my interests in mind, but it is an entirely different matter to be subsumed into a large bureaucracy with goals of its own in which my power of influence is minimal. Now, I understand that the AFT has been very active in trying to court us, and some may say that it will be just as active in fighting for us against the university. Perhaps. But let us not forget what the AFT stands to gain from our membership: First, our money. A union at a private university is a highly lucrative business. Second, our “name”: from now on, they could enlist the University of Chicago in support of whatever social or political cause they may wish to get behind in the future. And I, for one, am not so confident that it is really our interests – rather than its own – that the AFT is currently fighting for.
Secondly, I have real concerns about the leaders of GSU and the possibility that they gain even more power. Over the past few months, we have been hearing constantly about the university leading a campaign of “misinformation” and “intimidation”. But of what I have seen it is exactly the opposite. It is the GSU that has consistently boycotted forums for debate. It is the GSU that refused to conduct dialogue with anyone with diverging views. And it is the GSU that has been actively harassing students (really! Ask students in the Biological Divisions!) Further, in the last few months – and especially the last few weeks – GSU leaders have resorted to ugly personal attacks against university faculty and officials, and even against pro-union students who were deemed too moderate. I know some of these officials. I know their work. I came to this university to study with them. I also know some of these students. And I refuse to participate in the culture of hatred fostered against them by the GSU.
And lastly, on a personal note, I simply wish to negotiate in my own behalf vis-à-vis the university. It may be unwise of me, but it is my choice.
These are my personal reflections, but I hope that they may resonate with others as well. Perhaps one day, it will be the right thing for UChicago grad students to unionize. But in light of these reasons, I do not believe this time is now. As such, I have decided to vote AGAINST unionization, and I encourage my fellow students to do the same. Further, I have joined a group called “Stop and Think” which, as its name suggests, seeks to educate the student body about both the benefits and hazards of unionization before this issue is brought to a vote. I encourage everyone to check out their site, and seek out its members. Above all, however, I encourage everyone to stop being afraid. There are more of us than you think.
Yiftach Ofek, PhD Student