Undergrads will pay price of grad union

In any union-organizing drive, there are three obviously interested parties: workers, management and customers. The push for a graduate assistant union by the Graduate Student Organizing Congress is no exception. However, the concerns of the customers, undergraduate students, have been largely unheard. The University’s undergraduates must also live with the consequences of the union vote and should speak up before it is too late — voting cards will be distributed Friday. The very close-knit nature of a college campus ensures that undergraduates will be directly affected — unlike a customer in any other unionized industry.
GradSOC proponents, in the little commentary they have offered on undergraduates, claim that a union will bring about higher-quality educational opportunities. Better paid teaching assistants will be happier, and this will be reflected in the classroom. Teaching assistants with fewer students will be able to devote more time to individual undergraduates. The union will fight for better English-language training for international graduate assistants to make sure undergraduates are never stuck with a teaching assistant who can barely speak the language.
It may all sound rosy, but these things will not come for free. Should a graduate assistant union succeed in its goals, the University will be forced to pay for them somehow. Even just a $1,000 raise across the board for 4,000 graduate assistants will mean the University will have to find $4 million — expenses associated with more graduate assistants, more comprehensive health care and administrative costs of dealing with the union will certainly raise the final total.
It is unlikely that the state Legislature will hand the University a lump-sum to cover all these changes. Rather, the University will have only two choices: make cuts somewhere or raise tuition even more than the already inflated annual rate. Either way undergraduates will be hurt. Cuts somewhere else will reduce the quality of the University as a whole. Increased tuition will be felt by all students getting by on a shoestring budget already. The graduate assistants, of course, do not worry about more tuition because half-time assistants already get a full tuition waiver on top of their paychecks and health care benefits.
Every few years when the union negotiates a new contract, undergraduates will also face the prospect of a strike. Imagine losing your instructors in the middle of a semester, or worse, at the end. A strike by graduate students will differ from a strike by most other unions. When the United Auto Workers, for example, strike, automobile customers are deprived of buying new cars. At the University, a strike will deprive undergraduates of a product for which they have already paid their tuition, and do not expect the University to provide a refund.
The surprising lack of public commentary by undergraduates is disturbing. It may be too late for an organized group to do the right thing and enter the debate, but individual undergraduates can still make a difference. While graduate assistants consider how to vote before the May 10 deadline, undergraduates should take the time to tell their teaching assistants they do not want a union. Make sure they know they will be taking from undergraduates for their own benefit. Tell them to vote no.