Update from Dean Priestley on Graduate Student Unionization (Tuesday, April 23, 2024)

April 23, 2024

Dear Graduate Students,

The University has entered into a stipulated election agreement with the United Electrical, Radio and Machine Workers of America (UE). As we notified you on Wednesday, April 17, UE recently petitioned the National Labor Relations Board (NLRB) seeking an election to represent certain Princeton graduate students. 

The University acknowledges the right under current NLRB precedent of eligible graduate students who share a community of interest (as defined by the NLRB) to unionize and agrees that a secret-ballot election is the most inclusive, fair, and secure method for eligible voters to express their preference whether to be represented by UE.

What happens next?

An election is now scheduled for Monday, May 13 and Tuesday, May 14 between 9:00 AM - 1:00 PM and 2:00 PM - 6:00 PM at 302 Frist Campus Center. Graduate students in the bargaining unit, identified below, will be eligible to vote. We will be sending messages to all eligible students, including confirmation about the date, time, and campus location of the election. If a union is approved through an election, the University will negotiate with the union in good faith to arrive at a collective bargaining agreement.

Who is eligible to vote?

 All graduate students enrolled in Princeton University degree programs who currently hold appointments as Assistants in Instruction and/or Assistants in Research are eligible to vote and would be in the bargaining unit should union representation be approved.  This applies to both master’s students and doctoral students/candidates holding such appointments.  Eligible graduate students who will defend their dissertation or thesis in April may vote provisionally (under “challenge” in NLRB terms), but their vote ultimately may not be counted, as they may no longer be enrolled and part of the bargaining unit at the time of the election. In practice, this means that all doctoral graduate students supported exclusively on internal fellowships (e.g., first-year fellowships, honorific fellowships, or University fellowships that support nearly all graduate students in the humanities or social sciences), exclusively on external fellowships, or a combination of both, are ineligible to vote and would not be in the bargaining unit.

Why should you vote? 

The election will be decided by the majority of those who vote--even if only a minority of the eligible student body participates. If voters choose to be represented by a union, there is no right to “opt out” of the bargaining unit, so it’s critical that the final tally represents the will of all eligible voters. 

If you are eligible, we strongly encourage you to vote — and before you do, to become as knowledgeable as you can about the pros and cons of union representation of Princeton graduate students by the United Electrical, Radio and Machine Workers of America.

This University’s perspective on graduate student unionization.

I want to reiterate what I said last year: while we have concerns about unionization at Princeton, we respect your right to exercise your vote and to make your voice heard about whether union representation is right for students at Princeton. Every eligible graduate student is free to decide without pressure from other students, faculty, or administrators.

Because unionization would impose a new legal and contractual framework that would materially change your experience at Princeton, I encourage you to be fully informed before deciding whether unionization is right for you and your fellow graduate students. The Graduate School website offers extensive information, including current collective bargaining agreements of some peer institutions. The website also includes communications we shared last year on topics of importance to graduate students, including student support and benefit highlights.

In particular, we encourage you to carefully review the frequently asked questions which include information regarding the election process, your rights and critical role in the process, and the possible costs, and impacts if a union, in this case UE, is certified. I urge you to review the website section and to encourage your fellow students to do the same.                 

 In addition, we welcome the opportunity to answer your questions in person.  As we did last spring, we will offer a Q-and-A session where graduate students with questions may seek answers from representatives of the Graduate School and other relevant University offices.  We will send a separate message shortly with more information on the session. In addition, students are always encouraged to attend my office hours regarding any matter.

The Princeton approach to graduate education.

I believe that Princeton has a supportive and productive graduate school community that we have created together and continue to strengthen with care and mutual trust. Working with you, we have developed one of the most robust financial and benefits packages for graduate students in the nation; a primarily residential community with an array of housing options for students and families; and services and opportunities that support the professional, social, and physical wellbeing of students.

I am proud that the Princeton faculty recently approved a shared governance model that gives graduate students representation in the governance of the Graduate School, further expanding our collaboration with you.  The model gives graduate students real participation in helping to define their educational experience at Princeton by working directly with faculty and staff who all share a common interest.

We will support you in whatever choice you make.

Princeton and its graduate students have built a strong, trusted relationship grounded in a shared passion for discovery and knowledge generation. Together, we have created a campus culture that has been able to grapple with socially divisive issues openly and respectfully. Whatever the outcome of the election, the University’s priority is to continue to maintain an environment where all Princeton graduate students can thrive and where our shared commitment to research and teaching will flourish. Please be assured the Graduate School and the University will always support you.

                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                 Thank you for your thoughtful consideration in this process. Again, you can find detailed information about unionization on the Graduate School website. We will continue to provide information and updates about issues, the election process, and collective bargaining.



Rodney Priestley
Dean of the Graduate School