GradSOC members submit

by Kelly Hildebrandt

About 30 graduate assistants wearing bright orange construction hats and vests chanted, “GradSOC rocks! Union Yes!” from the bus Monday amid screams and laughter as they made their way to the state Bureau of Mediation Services.
The Graduate Student Organizing Congress turned in graduate assistants’ signatures the organization gathered in the last six months in order to gain a union election. The drive is in the hands of the mediation service now.
To have a union election, the organization needs signatures from 30 percent of the roughly 4,000 graduate assistants, defined as teaching assistants and research assistants, at the University. At the end of the drive, GradSOC had signatures from 58 percent of graduate assistants, said Sarah Laslett, a GradSOC supporter.
“I think that we’re going to have a union,” Laslett said.
The BMS will now verify if the signatures are from currently-employed graduate assistants and officials will determine if there is enough support to hold an election, said Josh Tilsen, a BMS mediator.
The signatures should be counted and verified by Tuesday afternoon and a maintenance of status quo will be issued to the University, Tilsen said. This mandates that the University do nothing to dissuade or persuade graduate assistants to join a union.
The BMS will then have a meeting with University officials and GradSOC representatives to determine who will be eligible to vote in an election and the format it would be held in, Tilsen said.
GradSOC will continue talking with students in every department to gain support for a union and will begin to establish a platform. Some of the things GradSOC organizers said they want to improve are wages and their health plan.
Timothy Stello, a graduate assistant in the chemistry department, said he wasn’t surprised GradSOC got signatures from a majority of graduate assistants. Since the organization was only asking for signatures and not votes, it would be easier to receive support.
“I just don’t think (the union) is a necessity,” he said. Although Stello supports unions, he doesn’t think a graduate assistant union is necessary because graduate assistants’ primary roles are as students, not employees.
An election would probably be held during spring quarter. Laslett said although some graduate assistants who signed signature cards will either have graduated or decide not to vote for a union by the time of the election, she doesn’t think it will be a significant number.
If a graduate assistant bargaining unit is established it will be one of the largest in existence, Joseph said. The University of Michigan has a bargaining unit of about 1,600 and the University of Wisconsin-Madison has about 2,400.
“Nothing really was going to prepare us just for the sheer scale of this campaign,” Joseph said.