Burlington, VT- University of Vermont graduate students employed by the university have notified the Vermont Labor Relations Board that they intend to vote on whether to form a union.

The Graduate Student Union, or GSU, also delivered a letter to administration demanding, among other things, a living wage and expanded health coverage.

“The really big message here is that UVM works because we do,” said Lily Russo-Savage, a Ph.D. student and organizer for GSU, at a rally to mark the occasion. “We are workers and we do deserve to have a say in our contracts and how we are treated as workers.”

The GSU represents more than 600 graduate student workers at UVM. They are following in the footsteps of other groups unionizing on campus, including faculty and staff.

The University of Vermont estimates that at least 1 in 5 graduate students are food insecure.

“We are looking to work with the university to make graduate students’ lives more attainable,” said Russo-Savage, “and that is really something that benefits the university in the long run.”

The letter delivered to the administration demanded wages that recognize the high cost of living in Burlington, dental and vision coverage, accessible child care for working parents and increased protection for international students.

The letter was signed in solidarity by members of the Vermont legislature.

“Without you, there is no University of Vermont,” said State Sen. Tanya Vyhovsky. “Stand down and recognize the rights of the student workers at the University of Vermont to organize, to be paid fairly, to have adequate benefits so that they can thrive here in Vermont.”

In a statement, the UVM administration said, “By its nature, a collective bargaining agreement can only address aspects of the university and student relationship that might fit into a narrow definition of ‘terms and conditions of employment.’ The unique relationship of graduate students with their faculty and departments is thus not well suited to representation by a union.”