Members of the University of Maine Graduate Workers Union outside Chancellor Dannel Malloy’s office on April 24. Union members gathered there to urge him to speed up the process of contract bargaining. Courtesy of University of Maine Graduate Workers Union

A year after going public and six months into bargaining, the University of Maine Graduate Workers Union and the University of Maine System have reached tentative agreements on only two of 22 provisions that have so far been proposed in the union’s first contract.

The union and administrators have come to tentative agreements on enforcement of a future contract and union recognition – the basic ground-rules that structure the bargaining process.

But the remaining proposals – including provisions on wages, health care benefits, anti-discrimination and international graduate workers’ rights – are unresolved.

As time goes by without progress, the union of research, teaching and graduate assistants is urging administrators to pick up the pace.

“Our bargaining goals identified urgent issues that need to be addressed. Every day that goes by that we don’t have a contract, graduate workers are struggling,” said Amanda Gavin, a graduate worker and member of the bargaining committee. “And we believe that bargaining doesn’t need to move at this pace.”

The University of Maine System sees the bargaining sessions as productive and says that bargaining takes time.


“The system remains optimistic that this first collective bargaining agreement can be achieved in a manner that is appropriately timely and responsive to the requests of the graduate student workers and their representatives within the existing resources of our public institutions,” spokesperson Samantha Warren said.


The University of Maine Graduate Workers Union, a part of the United Auto Workers, went public with its campaign in March 2023, galvanized by issues with poor pay and benefits.

Graduate workers at Maine’s state university system are some of the lowest-paid at New England’s land-grant universities, the union says. Workers earning a master’s degree have a minimum $17,000 stipend for a nine-month employment period, while the minimum for doctoral student workers is $20,000 for the 2023-24 school year – the same as in 2022-23.

Graduate workers say that these low wages, along with poor benefits and unsustainable workloads, have become unmanageable.

“After COVID, the economic and socio-economic situation has gotten so much worse to deal with,” said Vendy Hazukova, a union organizer and doctoral candidate at the University of Maine. “Now everything is even more expensive than when we actually started organizing. Dealing with all the issues laid out in our bargaining goals is of utmost importance.”


Last August, after the union collected a supermajority of petition cards, the University of Maine System agreed to voluntarily recognize the union and its roughly 1,000 members.

Contract negotiations then launched in November. The union has so far made 22 proposals, including guarantees for academic freedom barring censorship, just-cause dismissal, rights for international graduate workers and anti-discrimination provisions. None has been settled yet.

For non-discrimination, harassment and bullying, the University of Maine System came back with a counter-proposal that limits protections to federal Title IX regulations and omits union proposals for better access to gender neutral bathrooms, stricter definitions on bullying and harassment, commitments to supporting transgender students and employees, and better accommodations for pregnant people.

More proposals like wage requirements will be introduced in the future. But the bargaining committee can’t introduce them just yet. The union is waiting to get demographic information that the university system is legally obligated to provide under the National Labor Relations Act.

Gavin, the bargaining committee member, said the prolonged wait for information from administrators reflects how they are treating the bargaining.

“We can infer that it’s not a priority,” Gavin said.



As the reviving movement to form unions continues in America, graduate student workers are a major force. Graduate student workers at Clark, Fordham, Boston, Yale and Duke universities all have voted to unionize in the last two years. According to analysis from CUPA-HR, an association for higher education, 25% of all elections at higher education institutions in 2023 were for graduate-student-worker unions.

In addition to bargaining with the graduate workers union, the University of Maine System is in contract negotiations with unions for the Associated Faculties of the University of Maine System, Universities of Maine Professional Staff Association and the Associated Clerical Office Laboratory Technical Staff of the Universities of Maine.

And Warren, the University of Maine System’s spokesperson, believes that negotiations with graduate workers are moving along in as a timely manner as feasible during involved negotiations.

“We are meeting in good faith regularly and I’d characterize our negotiations as productive, with agreements already reached in some areas,” Warren said.

According to 2022 analysis by Bloomberg Law, it takes an average 465 days to negotiate a union contract.


But Gavin said the standard should not be over a year.

“We believe that bargaining doesn’t need to move at this pace,” Gavin said, adding that graduate workers at the Worcester Polytechnic Institute were able to secure a collective bargaining agreement in nine months.

The process might also be slowed by back and forth as the University of Maine System tries to find wiggle room in what it said are limited resources to offer graduate workers.

“Ultimately, as a public university system, our ability to improve work opportunities and conditions without shifting costs to Maine students and their families in the form of unreasonable tuition increases is entirely dependent on our state funding, which has historically been increased at a rate well below that of inflation,” Warren said.

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