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SUNY-ESF graduate student research assistants vote to form union

Jessica Cain

Update: SUNY-ESF students voted 52-1 to form a union. Next steps is the collective bargaining process with the SUNY Research Foundation.

"We respect the right of our Research Assistants to elect representation for purposes of collective bargaining," John Stella, ESF VP for Research and Campus Operations Manager for the SUNY Research Foundation said. "We hear our students and will continue working with them collaboratively and in good faith.”


SUNY Environmental Science and Forestry graduate student research assistants are voting for a union Wednesday. The ESF Research Assistants Union (RAU) is under the Communication Workers of America.

Some of the goals the RAU aims to do with collective bargaining include raising Research Assistant base pay, reducing or eliminating student fees, obtaining affordable health insurance for dental, vision and mental health services and establishing a framework to support childcare.

“It is completely unfair that we are expected to live on a stipend that is insufficient for the cost of living in Syracuse," Master's Student and Research Assistant in the Environmental Resources Engineering Department Adam Mitchell said. "Almost every day, I am worried about how I am going to afford basic needs like food. As if that was not bad enough, the very little money we make goes back to the University through all of these additional student fees for costs that should be covered by tuition. For instance, we have to pay upwards of $300 to register for a single class. None of us deserve the treatment we are receiving. The university is exploiting our passion and dedication to our studies and our work and we are coming together to form a union to put a stop to it.”

Some SUNY graduate student workers are already unionized through the Graduate Student Employees Union (GSEU), CWA Local 1104. These students are funded through New York state. Research Assistants, however, are funded through a private foundation so they are ineligible to be members of the GSEU.

“ESF has several unions currently representing students, faculty and staff on our campus and we did receive communication from the CWA Local 1104 on behalf of SUNY ESF Research Assistants," Vice President for Research at SUNY ESF John Stella said. "Our Research Assistants are a valued part of our ESF community, and we are working with our counterparts at the SUNY Research Foundation on next steps.”

The union vote is happening from 9 a.m. to 3 p.m. at Moon Library.

Syracuse University graduate student workers voted for a union last month.

Editors note: Some WRVO Public Media Staff are employees of the SUNY Research Foundation

Ava Pukatch joined the WRVO news team in September 2022. She previously reported for WCHL in Chapel Hill, NC and earned a degree in Journalism and Media from the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill. At UNC, Ava was a Stembler Scholar and a reporter and producer for the award-winning UNC Hussman broadcast Carolina Connection. In her free time, Ava enjoys theatre, coffee and cheering on Tar Heel sports. Find her on Twitter @apukatch.