Graduate assistant campaign builds steam

by Kelly Hildebrandt

Bright orange T-shirts and the sound of an eight-piece kazoo band peppered the frigid campus Friday as members of the Graduate Students Organizing Congress paraded around campus to remind graduate assistants that a union signature drive is still in progress.
To gain a union election, GradSOC needs signatures from at least 30 percent of the roughly 4,000 graduate assistants — research or teaching assistants — at the University.
The organization is well above the minimum, with signatures from about 45 percent of graduate assistants, said Britt Abel, a member on the GradSOC steering committee. The signatures haven’t been officially validated by the state Bureau of Mediation Services yet.
The association’s goal is to obtain signatures from at least 50 percent of the graduate assistant population before they send the signatures to the mediation bureau, Abel said. She is confident GradSOC will draw support from a majority of the graduate assistants on campus by the end of the drive.
The organization had six months, starting Aug. 1, to show there is enough support for a union election to be held. On Feb. 1, the signature drive will end and the cards will be turned into the mediation bureau.
When GradSOC submits the signatures, mediation services will check the cards to ensure the signers are University employees. They will then decide if there is enough support for an election. If an election is approved, it will be held sometime during spring quarter.
Members will be staffing phone banks four nights a week in coming weeks to gain as many signatures as possible.
“There are just a whole bunch of people we haven’t talked to yet,” said Ronda Copher, a GradSOC member.
With the signature drive coming to an end, the organization will also start building an official platform, Abel said. The unofficial goals are to create better wages, a better health care plan and a student fees cap through a graduate assistant union.
“I don’t think it’s just about money,” said Martha Easton, a GradSOC member who organizes the Medical School graduate assistants.
Different people have different concerns, Easton said. International students, for example, have additional expenses, and are often limited by their student visas. They are often the only people allowed to work in their families and are only allowed to work a certain amount of hours.
A common misconception about international students is that they don’t want to be involved with a union. Easton said she has only met one international student who wouldn’t sign a card.