More opinions on the grad union debate

GradSOC has stated that in addition to dues that will be collected for local union expenditure, each graduate assistant will be required to pay $113 to the affiliate unions every year. This means that the affiliates will be collecting nearly $450,000 from approximately 4,000 graduate assistants every year. Can the affiliates possibly be spending anywhere close to $450,000 every year on GradSOC? Couldn’t a graduate assistant union simply purchase the same services on the open market for much less money?
I understand that Education Minnesota (one of the affiliates) will be providing GradSOC with a full-time employee. GradSOC claims the affiliates will also provide legal, bargaining and research services. However, at the affiliates’ level, all the equipment and personnel needed to run huge unions are already in place. Adding a few graduate assistants to the union should not cause any major additional costs. I suspect that the market price of the affiliates’ services to GradSOC would be a small fraction of the $450,000 we will pay them every year.
Even if one were to assume that a union is desirable, there is no reason why affiliation should cost the students so much money.

Raghu Venugopalan,graduate student,accounting

Wednesday’s editorial, “Union offers graduate assistants nothing new,” shows a distressing lack of understanding of the facts in the unionization debate and does not suggest an adequate solution to the real problems faced by graduate assistants, such as stagnant wages and the loss of almost 25 percent of the available assistantships.
The main contention of the editorial is that both GradSOC and Graduate Students Against Unionization are “skirting around a question at the heart of the union debate” — the issue of having a voice in the decisions that affect our lives. The editorial then states that a union would offer “little more than what all graduate students possess today” and proposes working through the Council of Graduate Students as an alternative to unionization. However, COGS has been able to stop neither the loss of almost one-fourth of the graduate assistantships nor the decline in TA and RA wages to ninth out of the 10 public Big Ten universities.
This is not because of incompetence on the part of COGS leaders, but because of a lack of power within COGS. The University is not required to listen to, negotiate with or abide by any agreement made with COGS. However, the University, by state law, must listen to and negotiate in good faith with a union and abide by a union contract. A union contract can guarantee wage increases and the protection of jobs — COGS cannot.
GradSOC has the support of hundreds of volunteers (including several former members of COGS) because they realize that only a union will have these powers. The editorial cites dues as a cost of a union. It neglects to mention that no graduate assistant will pay dues until they approve a contract through a majority vote of union members by secret ballot. It is likely that this will not happen unless the contract provides gains that exceed the amount of dues. Suppose that dues were $175 per year and the contract offered a $350 per year raise. Graduate assistants would then make a net $175 per year profit despite dues.
It is true that a large portion of this money would go to state and national organizations. However, our affiliation with these organizations gives us increased power, such as the ability to lobby the state Legislature for money to increase our wages and to stop the decline in assistantships.
The editorial cites the possibility of strikes as another cost of a union. However, the editorial neglects to mention that no strike will take place without a majority vote of union members by secret ballot. Furthermore, strikes are rare. Most graduate assistant strikes occur when the graduate assistants are not represented by a recognized union.
More than 70 percent (five out of seven) of the unions affiliated with the American Federation of Teachers or National Education Association have never gone on strike. Only one has gone on strike in the last 10 years. That union — GEO, Michigan — has gone on strike for only seven days in the last 20 years. No union at the University of Minnesota has ever gone on strike. During the last 10 years, the AFT negotiated about 1,750 contracts. These negotiations resulted in only five strikes.
Finally, the editorial notes that graduate assistants should vote for a union only if the “administration is evil,” working “for their own wicked, capitalist ends.” In my view, this is an overly constrained assessment of when to unionize. Graduate assistants should vote for a union if they believe that their lives and the lives of their fellow graduate assistants would be better with a union. There is strong evidence that this would be true. Thus, a vote for GradSOC would not signify “paranoia,” as the Daily suggests, but a reasonable collective decision by graduate workers.

Ian Williamson,graduate student,social psychology

Before we vote on whether to accept a GradSOC graduate assistant union, I think we should check out some of the people we are getting involved with, such as the AFT — one of the four GradSOC affiliate unions, which will supposedly use our money for lobbying. An examination of the AFT’s Web site was very discouraging.
Nowhere do they address any of the issues GradSOC says affiliates will solve. They don’t discuss graduate assistant wages, benefits or work loads. In fact, the only time they mention us graduate students is to identify us as a problem that adversely affects undergraduate instruction.
I’m not sure that GradSOC realized what it got into when it affiliated with this union. It seems to me that any money we give to these people to lobby for us will be wasted. They have not thought about our issues, and they won’t know how to handle our problems.
Edmund Kao,graduate student,chemical engineering