Union would be good for RAs, too

Like teaching assis-tants, research assis-tants are paid less here than elsewhere.

When I opened the paper Friday I was glad to finally see an article about the graduate employee unionization drive. Undoubtedly, the fact that graduate students are organizing at the University for living wages and affordable health care, among other things, is big news. The University is the only Big Ten university where graduate employees with a right to organize have yet to do so. It shows.

As a source in the story indicated, the University’s graduate employee salaries rank “28 out of 30 for the nation’s top universities.” Additionally, our health-care benefits have been eroding for years. It’s time to respect and value graduate employees’ work.

They provide a valuable service to the University and the community at large. Graduate employees facilitate discussion sessions, teach courses, grade papers and assignments, counsel students and are an important link between faculty and undergrads. Graduate employees also carry out research that benefits all of us in areas such as medicine, biochemistry and agriculture, to name a few. To my surprise, however, the article leaves the impression that GradTRAC is a teaching assistant-only union.

The reporter refers to the union in the headline and several times in the article as a “TA coalition.” GradTRAC is a teaching and research assistants’ union. RAs have as much at stake in having a union as TAs do. RAs at the University are paid much less than their counterparts in other research universities.

Even University President Bob Bruininks admitted this fact in his announcing to the Board of Regents that the administration’s decided to raise the base-salary of graduate assistants by 10 percent. Moreover, Bruininks pointed that “the University need(s) to offer competitive compensation packages if we wish to recruit the best students.” The sad truth, however, is that the proposed increase does not improve the salaries of over two-thirds of all graduate assistants, and the base salary continues to be one of the lowest. How is it that the administration plans to attract the best students with such a shoddy compensation package?

Both RAs and TAs need fair and competitive wages as well as affordable, quality health care. But in order to get what we need, we must have a voice in the decisions that affect us, our academic career and our livelihoods. That is why I support GradTRAC.

Rafael A. Ortiz is a graduate student. Please send comments to [email protected]