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Coalition for Graduate Students Sues University of Missouri

COLUMBIA, Mo. ― A coalition elected to represent graduate students in collective bargaining at the University of Missouri filed a lawsuit Wednesday asking university officials to recognize it as a bargaining unit.

In a lawsuit filed in Boone County Circuit Court, the Coalition of Graduate Workers, which is affiliated with the Missouri National Education Association, argued the university is violating about 2,700 graduate assistants’ constitutional right to be represented by a union.

The coalition has been seeking recognition since December but school officials contend graduate assistants are students, not employees, and have no right to form a union, The Columbia Daily Tribune reported.

In an April election, 84 percent of the graduate assistants who voted supported the union. The university again denied recognition of the union on May 6.

Michael Kaemmerer, a university lawyer, says no legal precedent exists to settle the question.

“To resolve this substantial legal issue, the CGW at the very least must establish legal authority to bargain collectively, through the applicable appeals process,” Kaemmerer said.

The effort to form a union for graduate assistants began in August when the university announced, with little prior notice, that it would replace individual health insurance for the assistants with stipends to cover some insurance costs. The decision drew immediate criticism, prompting the university to reinstate their health insurance.

Since then, the university has increased stipends, worked to provide affordable housing and changed the date when fees are due. But coalition leaders say the graduate assistants need a union because the university did nothing to help them until pressure to form a union began.

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