Photo courtesy of http://www.uconngradunion.org/

More than 2,100 graduate assistants working at the University of Connecticut have won the right to form what will be the largest bargaining group at the school.

The State Board of Labor Relations certified the petitions submitted by the group last Thursday. The vote means graduate assistants, research assistants, and teaching assistants will be represented by the United Auto Workers union.

Prior to last week’s decision regarding union certification, the UConn Board of Trustees voted to remain neutral during the organizing process.

The 2,135 graduate assistants will become the largest union on the campus, followed by the faculty with about 1,700 members, and the staff union which has about 1,600 members. According to a university spokeswoman, about 85 percent of UConn’s employees are unionized.

“The university has been, and will continue to be, neutral with regard to this effort,” Stephanie Reitz, a spokeswoman for the university, said. “Individual graduate students are free to make their own decisions. The university and its senior administrators will not seek to influence the decision of any GA.”

Currently, graduate assistants are paid stipends that range from $20,159 to $23,583 for the academic year. The graduate assistants are considered full-time if they work 20 hours or more per week.

“We commend the administration and the Board of Trustees for allowing us to make our own choice, and hope that this good-faith spirit continues into bargaining for our first contract,” Cera Fisher, a doctoral student in Ecology and Evolutionary Biology, said in a statement on the vote. Fisher works as a research and teaching assistant.

The group will negotiate directly with the UConn Board of Trustees rather than the Office of Policy and Management like other state employee unions. The group’s negotiating efforts under the agreement cover wages and workplace issues. Grading decisions or other matters regarding the academic process will not be included in collective bargaining.

The agreement does not mean that the graduate assistants will automatically be placed into the state employee health insurance plan. That decision will be subject to the approval of the state and the coalition of state employee unions.

The group already is scheduled to receive a 4-percent stipend increase starting in the fall 2014 academic year. That increase already was approved before the current union drive and will not be affected by it.

“We applaud the administration at UConn for respecting the rights of the graduate student workers as they sought representation with the UAW,” Lori Pelletier, executive secretary treasurer of the AFL-CIO, said Friday.

The news regarding the graduate assistants comes on the heels of a decision by a regional labor board that found that students athletes at private colleges should be allowed to join unionize.

“Just like graduate students, student athletes also deserve the right to collectively bargain,” Pelletier said.

State Rep. Patricia Dillon, D-New Haven, has said she intends to introduce legislation that would allow student athletes at both public and private colleges to unionize.

Citing the National Labor Relations Board ruling by a regional director in favor of allowing Northwestern football players to form a union, Dillon said she wants to make sure that a similar opportunity is available to Connecticut athletes.

“It appears that state law may be an impediment,” Dillon has said. “NLRB ruled that athletes at private schools have the right to unionize, but said state labor laws may prohibit public school students from organizing. I am prepared to file legislation to make sure athletes at both public and private schools are on equal footing.”

The General Assembly adjourns May 7.