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University of Maine graduate student workers push to form union

"Our bottom line is that we are going to keep pushing until we get it done," Nikhil Brocchini said.

ORONO, Maine — Graduate student workers at the University of Maine are saying enough is enough. Dozens of students and faculty members gathered Friday afternoon at the MLK Plaza on campus in Orono to rally in support of forming a union. 

The union will be known as the University of Maine Graduate Workers Union-UAW. 

"There's a very diverse set of issues that people are concerned about," Nikhil Brocchini, a UMaine graduate student, said. 

Brocchini said they hope those issues will be addressed through the formation of a union. 

"We want improved working conditions," Andrea Tirrell, a Ph.D. student at UMaine, said. 

The graduate workers are advocating for improved conditions that include earning a livable wage, an outlet to address workplace concerns, and better health care benefits. Students said the benefits are a major concern. 

"It's a really big ask to have to pay this big chunk of money right at the beginning of the semester, and the coverage is also really poor," Tirrell said. 

The health care coverage also lacks dental and eye care, along with not supporting costs for critical medical devices such as insulin pumps. 

"It's not complete. It's not satisfactory. And it's way too expensive, especially given what we're paid," Brocchini said. 

Brocchini added that many graduate workers at UMaine are paid less than $20,000 a year.

The workers hope the collection of more than 500 union authorization cards will prove to university administrators the need is there. 

Sen. Mike Tipping, D-Orono, also showed up Friday afternoon in support of the union.

"These students are standing up for what they need, for wages, for overtime, for healthcare, for dental care finally. We need to support them, I hope the university does as well by recognizing this union," Tipping said. 

"We're calling now on the university to commit to voluntarily recognizing our union once we demonstrate that majority on cards, and not using any bureaucratic loopholes or time-wasting tactics. Just recognizing the democratic consensus, honoring that, and sitting down with us to start hammering out a deal as soon as possible," Brocchini said.

The university also released a statement to NEWS CENTER Maine:

"We very much value our graduate student workers, as they are a vital part of the campus community. We recognize the right to unionize. The University will await the outcome of the election and at that time we'll have further discussions with our graduate students and/or the appropriate union representatives."

"Our bottom line is that we are going to keep pushing until we get it done," Brocchini said. 

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