Grad students need a union

A democratic union would improve working conditions and the University.

Last week, more than 200 University graduate student employees launched a campaign for unionization. Those in attendance mingled and ate food while boisterously speaking of the need for a union and what might happen in coming months.

They also attended to business. Research assistants and teaching assistants unanimously ratified a five-point platform and became the first to sign union cards with United Electrical.

United Electrical successfully organized University of Iowa employees in 1996, winning a 49 percent increase in base salary over the last eight years. While the United Electrical name might sound odd next to the words “graduate student,” its successes in Iowa and history of union democracy are encouraging to graduate student employees upset at what amounts to pay cuts in recent years.

Graduate Teaching and Research Assistants Coalition United Electrical Local 1105 identifies cuts in health care and student-fee hikes without a pay increase as the primary reason why it needs a union.

Some spoke eloquently of the hardships of affording dependent health care for children, or in the case of international students, partners unable to work. Others spoke of the stress they experience from tenuous job security and growing class sizes.

Graduate student employees are overworked, underpaid and all too often overlooked. If this organizing drive turns out results as those at the University of Iowa, the entire University of Minnesota will benefit from better-paid and healthier research assistants and teaching assistants.

Physics student and union activist Beth Lusczek, said, “We are at the bottom of pay scales of all the Big Ten schools.”

The University of Minnesota is also the only school in the Big Ten with the right to organize that does not actually have a graduate student employee union. To stay competitive in attracting the best and the brightest, a democratic union makes sense for the entire University of Minnesota.