Union might affect dept. relations at U

by Matt Graham

Supporters of graduate employee unionization have argued that a union will help negotiations, but opponents said it is more effective for graduate employees to deal directly with their departments.

Graduate employees are voting this week on whether they want to be officially represented by the Graduate Teaching and Research Assistants Coalition United Electrical Local 1105.

Union opponents said they worry that a union could damage the working relationships already in place, but union supporters say it will strengthen those relationships while adding another avenue of negotiation for graduate employees.

Andrew Warta, chemical engineering research assistant and Council of Graduate Students member, said there are organizations in place that give graduate students a say in how the University is run.

Warta said groups like the council “work to make sure there is a unified voice (for graduate students).”

He said the council works closely with the University administration and was able to improve dental coverage for graduate students when they had problems with it.

But union supporters said they also support other graduate student groups.

“Those groups within the departments are very important,” said Isaac Kamola, the council’s vice president of communications and a political science teaching assistant.

Kamola said he supports the union but emphasized he was not speaking on behalf of the council.

Kamola said organizations that are place in many departments are good for negotiating academic issues. But Kamola said departmental organizations are limited in what they can negotiate and can’t impact things such as health care.

Kamola also said anything they negotiate is noncontractual.

Brennan Platt, an economics graduate instructor, said graduate employees don’t need a union because it is in the best interest of their departments to stay competitive with departments in other schools.

But Paul Garrett, a mathematics professor and former director of graduate studies, said it is “dangerous to trust the good will of departments,” even if the department has the best interest of its graduate employees in mind.

He said the University can easily overrule decisions made within individual departments.

Wayne Gladfelter, chemistry department chairman, said graduate employees with complaints can currently go to their department advisers, department directors of graduate studies and department heads.

Gladfelter said he worries the union might damage these departmental relationships with their graduate students.

“Most union relationships develop an adversarial role,” he said.

But union supporters point to a study conducted by Gordon Hewitt of Tufts University that shows unions do not harm graduate student relationships with their departments.