Low wages show need for Union

A union would help graduate assistants, but strain the University’s already tight budget.

Graduate employee union members from five Big Ten universities will be on campus today to support the unionization of teaching and research assistants in the Twin Cities and Duluth. Graduate Teaching and Research Assistants Coalition United Electrical Local 1105 formed nine months ago, but still has to make a bid to the Bureau of Mediation Services to become a legal union. The University is the only Big Ten school that has graduate employees who can unionize have not.

Unionization could create a previously nonexistent opportunity to barter with the University for better wages and health care. The University’s relies heavily on its graduate assistant population, approximately 4,500 teaching and research assistants – one of the largest in the Big Ten. But their salaries are some of the lowest. The University could better recruit highly qualified graduate students if it offered better compensation.

Though the numbers make a good case for unionizing, increased wages and better benefits cost the University money, something it is not currently swimming in. The possibility of a reduced number of higher paid teaching and research assistants is very real. If the amount of graduate students remained the same, cuts would have to be made in other areas or tuition might have to be increased further yet. In the end someone

GradTRAC is quick to point out the successes of graduate employee unions at other Big Ten universities, such as the University of Iowa, to counter the risks of unionization. But the group should be cautious about basing the potential for success on what has happened at other institutions.

In Iowa, state law prohibits unions from striking. Instead, the final option is binding arbitration, when both parties agree in advance to the judgment of a third party. GradTRAC will be faced with the harsher, though more persuasive, reality of a strike if it struggles to come to terms with the University.

The risks in mind, it is only fair for graduate student employees to have the same rights as other unionized employees on campus. If the union succeeds, bartering time is just around the corner, as contracts expire in early September. Hopefully graduate assitants will succeed not only in unionizing, but effecitvely and wisely managing their union. This would benefit not only union members, but the University community as a whole.