Grad students move closer to union vote

by Kelly Hildebrandt

The Graduate Students Organizing Congress said Friday they have surpassed the 35 percent support they need to obtain a union vote for graduate assistants. But in an effort to make a strong showing, they will keep the drive going until they reach the organization’s goal of 60 percent.
Since the state Bureau of Mediation Services has not yet checked the cards to ensure they are signed by graduate assistants, they are not official. However, GradSOC members are confident they’ll get a union vote by spring.
To win a union vote, GradSOC needs 50 percent plus one vote. A vote for the union would give graduate assistants more leverage in the decision-making process, allowing them to create a labor contract with the University.
Some of the issues they want to address are wages, a grievance procedure and arbitrary fees.
GradSOC spokeswoman Britt Abel said they currently have 1,435 signatures from the 3,800 University graduate assistants and hope to end the union drive by the end of fall quarter — almost two months before the Feb. 1 deadline. If GradSOC doesn’t obtain signatures from 60 percent of graduate assistants, they will still be eligible for a union vote which would take place around April.
In an effort to help GradSOC reach this goal, graduate assistant union members from the University of Wisconsin-Madison spent Saturday morning walking door-to-door to step up the card-signing drive.
The Wisconsin union, Teaching Assistants Associates, has been recognized since 1969 and is the oldest graduate assistant union in the country. Through the union they have obtained a full tuition waiver, a grievance procedure and health and dental insurance.
This is one of many times GradSOC has gone on house visits to obtain cards. They are also currently working on mailing out cards to graduate assistants.
A mixture of GradSOC members and Madison students bundled up in winter coats and mittens on the sunny morning to knock on doors at the Como Student Community Cooperation, a complex for family housing.
The petitioners met with a variety of reactions. Many of the occupants weren’t home and those who were ranged from very enthusiastic to completely uninterested.
Many graduate assistants had already signed the cards but were still enthusiastic. “I don’t have time to help but I support what you guys are doing,” said Eleonora Bertranou, a teaching assistant in the Spanish department.
“I haven’t signed it yet, I don’t really want to sign it,” said one international graduate assistant in the complex, who didn’t want his name used.
“It’s a mixed bag,” said Leon Rodrigues, a graduate assistant in the College of Education who participated in the house visits. Some people are enthusiastic and some are very cautious, he said.
International students are leery of joining a union because they think they’ll be victimized, Rodrigues said.
“People are worried if they become active in a union it could jeopardize their career,” said Madison union member M.J. Curry, adding that 99 percent of the time that isn’t true.
A common misconception among international students is that their green cards can be taken away if they join a union or become politically involved on campus.
GradSOC obtained about 10 signatures from the house visits. Rodrigues, who has made visits in the complex before, said they are usually successful. The last time they received about 30 signatures.