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In debates on the future of work, a common theme has been how work became less secure through the denial of employee status. Though much of the attention has focused on other industries, precarity has also affected those working in higher education, including graduate student employees, contributing to what is now called the “gig academy.” While universities have reassigned teaching and research to graduate assistants, they have also refused to recognize them as employees. Nevertheless, unionization has grown considerably since 2012, most significantly at private institutions. Utilizing a unique dataset, this chapter demonstrates that between 2012 and 2019, graduate student employees voted overwhelmingly for representation. The chapter contextualizes this growth within the history of their unionization movement. We argue that legal rights have been a predominant factor, with graduate assistants confronting, and frequently overcoming, their misclassification. Those experiences provide lessons for workers in other industries facing similar obstacles.


Post-print of Herbert, William A., and Joseph van der Naald. 2021. "Graduate Student Employee Unionization in the Second Gilded Age." Pp. 221-46 in Revaluing Work(ers): Toward a Democratic and Sustainable Future, edited by T. Schulze-Cleven and T Vachon. Champaign, IL: Labor and Employment Relations Association.



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