Grad students discuss unions

by Tom Lopez

California graduate students’ strike ended Friday, but unionization and collective bargaining rights remain issues at college campuses across the nation. And while most graduate students at the University support the students at the University of California, the vast majority of them do not support unionization, said Bruce Bromberek, president of the University’s Graduate and Professional Student Assembly.
The strike in California ended according to schedule at 5:30 p.m. on Friday, without any response from the University of California administration.
Graduate students at the Los Angeles campus began the strike on Monday and were joined Tuesday by students at the San Diego campus. On Wednesday the Berkeley campus followed suit.
Michael Ash, a member of the Executive Board of the Association of Graduate Students Assembly in California, said California students decided on a fixed period for the strike to minimize the disruption to undergraduate education. “Striking is a pretty scary business,” he said.
Although GAPSA has formulated no official opinion concerning the issue of unionization, Bromberek said he personally doesn’t see any need for a graduate and professional student union at the University.
“We have a lot of say and a lot of input within the administration that unions don’t have,” he said. “Among graduate and professional students who interact with the administration and student graduate views, there doesn’t seem to be a move to unionize.”
Ash said the strike was an important movement for graduate students and the University of California as a whole.
“The working conditions of TAs are the learning conditions of undergraduate students,” he said. “The university administration refuses to acknowledge the collective bargaining rights of graduate students.”
Ash said that two-thirds of the 15,000 graduate students at the University of California’s Los Angeles campus support unionization. He said he believed unionization is a good idea for all universities. Citing unions at the Universities of Wisconsin, Michigan and Massachusetts, he said he would “strongly recommend them to all graduate students.”
Despite such recommendations, Sean OhmsWinnie, the legislative liaison of the Council of Graduate Students, said that the atmospheres of the University of California and the University of Minnesota are very different, and what may be necessary there would not be beneficial here. He said the University of Minnesota’s graduate student organizations have good communications with the administration, which would be lost “with the antagonistic relationship that unionization would represent.”
Like GAPSA, the council has taken no official stance on unionization at the University. However, OhmsWinnie said that he personally opposes it.
“The Council of Graduate Students are not for or against unionization because we haven’t discussed the issue,” said Wendy Grebner, the council’s vice president for communications. Personally, however, she said she doesn’t believe unionization would improve relations with the administration.
“I believe that graduate students have the right to unionize,” she said. “But I don’t personally feel that we need a union at this point because we have a good relationship with the University.”
Despite current dispositions, however, Ash said that unions are a vital part of university communication. “It formalizes the relationship,” he said, adding that it allows for the redress of grievances and other systematic negotiation.
Bromberek said he is not opposed to all unionization at universities. Although he opposes graduate student unionization, he said he understands the recent steps toward unionization that many University professors have taken.
“The professors’ desire to unionize was because they felt that they weren’t being treated fairly by the Board of Regents. If graduate students were to face a similar situation, we might consider it,” he said.