5 Reasons We're Forming a Graduate Student Union at USC

As you may have heard, graduate students at private universities recently won the right to form unions. We’re writing you today to tell you why we’re organizing to form a graduate student union at USC.
1. Together we can fix a broken system.
Our colleges and universities are becoming a luxury for the wealthy instead of a pathway to the American Dream. Students spend their entire lives trying to pay off debt, yet instructors are paid so little that they qualify for food stamps — all while top administrators pay themselves millions. Together we can fight to restore the promise of higher education: a commitment to quality, accessible instruction that graduates students without debt, pays educators a living wage, and generates more opportunities for everyone in our communities.
2. Gaining a voice on campus.
Graduate students are the glue that binds our university together, but all too often we’re overlooked and overworked. A union is a way to be heard. A way to come together, build collective power and help bring about greater change at our and other higher education institutions.
3. Getting back control of our work.
A Graduate student union will bring more security and control over the terms of our work, teaching, and research. Our working conditions directly impact student learning, research outcomes, and our own health and well-being. By forming a union, we can secure a strong, collective voice for ourselves, our work, and the students we teach.
4. Winning the better pay and improved benefits we deserve.
USC relies on us for undergraduate and graduate instruction, to support research projects, and to further the work of tenured and tenure-track faculty, all of which contribute to maintaining an exceptional academic experience, improved student outcomes, and increased university rankings. But despite our importance, our work is often undervalued and under-appreciated. We teach and research without an adequate voice in pay, healthcare coverage, and university fees, even when the cost of living in Los Angeles continues to skyrocket. Graduate students and faculty who have formed unions have won landmark improvements in wages, access to benefits, and professional development in their first contracts.
5. We’re in this together.
As the fall semester continues, USC graduate students are organizing to build a strong union on campus, and we’re not alone. Graduate student organizing campaigns are underway at universities across the country, including Duke, Saint Louis University, Northwestern, American University, and Vanderbilt.
As graduate students, we need a strong, united voice to effect change. We believe the best way to improve our working conditions and fix higher education is by coming together to form a union.
Will you join us? Take the first step: fill out the confidential form below to show your support.
All the best,
Victor Sánchez, Research Assistant, Program for Environmental and Regional Equity
Peter Guekguezian, Teaching Assistant, Dornsife College of Letters, Arts, and Sciences

Graduate Students Are Uniting to Change Higher Education

Dear Fellow Graduate Student Employees: 

We are writing to share why we are coming together to improve our working conditions and to ask you to join us.

As you may have heard, graduate student teaching and/or research assistants at private colleges and universities now have the the right to form unions and negotiate over the terms of their employment. Graduate student workers are vital to the mission of higher education. Our teaching, grading and instructional support are core components of undergraduate education; our lab work and fieldwork underwrite major new discoveries and innovations; our research and scholarship contribute both to the broad advance of knowledge and to the reputation of our institution.
Yet graduate needs, perspectives and voices are too often overlooked. Over the past few months, we have spoken with our colleagues across our universities about a range of issues impacting graduate students. Several core themes emerged from these discussions, including: concerns about rising costs of living; inadequate flexibility in healthcare coverage; lack of basic workplace protections; the need for better workplace harassment and discrimination policies; the imposition of continuation fees and other financial burdens; and sudden changes to our contracts and work conditions.
As graduate student workers, we need a strong, united voice in order to effect change on these and other issues. We believe the best way to improve our working conditions is by coming together to form a union for graduate student workers on our individual campuses and to unite with our peers at universities across the country.
While graduate employee unions are not new, we are now part of a national movement. We are standing up and saying it’s time for the people responsible for the core mission of instruction and scholarship to have a voice in the decisions that impact our degree path, our livelihoods, and the future of higher education.

In the past three years, non-tenure track faculty at nearly 50 universities voted to form a union under the banner of SEIU Faculty Forward—joining a nationwide movement of 120,000 SEIU members who work in higher education. Graduate student unionization campaigns are underway at peer institutions such as Duke, Northwestern, Saint Louis University, Vanderbilt and others. By forming a graduate student union with SEIU, we can join our colleagues on campus and across the country in order to improve our work conditions and the quality of higher education as a whole.

Improving our working conditions will benefit not only graduate student workers, but also our students, our faculty and the administration:

  • Undergraduate students deserve teachers, graders and teaching assistants who can be fully engaged in providing the best possible education. Financial insecurity, inadequate health and childcare, unclear teaching guidelines, and uneven work expectations detract and distract from this mission.

  • We also believe that workplace protections, fair grievance procedures and consistent, transparent employment policies for graduate student workers will improve health, productivity and outcomes.

  • Faculty rely on graduate student workers for assistance with research and instruction and will benefit from healthy, happy, productive graduate students, as will the university as a whole.

By working together, we can positively impact our working conditions in ways that benefit the educational and research mission of our universities.

If you’re ready to take the first step to making improvements, click here to sign a union authorization form today, or fill out the form at the bottom of this page. You should also feel free to contact us directly to answer questions about how forming a union would raise standards for our jobs, students, and profession and to find out more about how you can get involved.
We hope you will join us!

Edward Muna, University of Southern California
Kenneth McCarthy Bolster, University of Southern California
Petrina Crockford, University of Southern California
Sabeen Ahmad, Vanderbilt University
Jackson Christopher Bartlett, Northwestern University
Jean Clifford, Loyola University of Chicago
Elizabeth Eikmann, Saint Louis University
Max Freeman, Northwestern University
Connor Gadek, American University
Justin Hubbard, Vanderbilt University
Lisa Madura, Vanderbilt University
Paulo G. Martinez, Vanderbilt University
Ben Meiners, Washington University in St. Louis
Jesse Montgomery, Vanderbilt University
Imani Mosley, Duke University
Aitza M. Haddad Nuñez, J.D., Howard University
Sebastian Ramirez, Vanderbilt University
Lyle Rubin, University of Rochester
Shahrazad Shareef, Duke University
Kelly Swope, Vanderbilt University


Are they Students? Or are they Employees? NLRB Rules that Graduate Students are Employees

The Washington Post reports on the NLRB’s landmark ruling clearing the way for graduate students to organize unions on their campusesL

The National Labor Relations Board ruled Tuesday that graduate students who work as teaching and research assistants at private universities are school employees, clearing the way for them to join or form unions that administrators must recognize.

Debates about the role and rights of graduate students have emerged as more universities rely on low-paid adjuncts and doctoral students, rather than full-time professors, to teach — a model that has been widely criticized as exploitative. Though adjuncts are making inroads in their fight for higher wages, graduate students have struggled, in part, because the work they do is often a component of their education.” 

Read the whole thing here.