GAPSA, GradTRACdiverge in goals

Bryce Haugen

Though graduate student government leaders refuse to take sides in the debate about a new graduate employee union, they said they have a role in the conversation.

“Our mission is to provide a forum for an open-ended discussion,” said Abu Jalal, president of the Graduate and Professional Student Assembly

Since the October launch of the Graduate Teaching and Research Assistants Coalition United Electrical Local 1105, union organizers have recruited members throughout campus. GAPSA has offered to help educate students about unionizing, but GradTRAC prefers to spread its message through individual meetings, union leaders said.

Officials from both groups said the two organizations have different goals – and distinct roles.

Different duties

GAPSA represents the University’s 17,546 graduate and professional students. GradTRAC represents the approximately 4,500 University graduate research and teaching assistants on the Twin Cities and Duluth campuses, said union organizer Ryan Murphy, an American studies fellow.

“GradTRAC has a different job to do,” he said. “We deal with specific issues that deal with employment.”

Union organizer Kris Houlton, a former research and teaching assistant, said GAPSA and the Council of Graduate Students – the largest GAPSA council – focus on a wider array of issues that affect all graduate students.

Many students are active in the union and student government, said Houlton, who also represents the Council of Graduate Students in GAPSA and the Student Senate.

“There’s a real crossover of interest but not a crossover of duties,” she said.

Student government is a great liaison between the University and students, but it is hamstrung, because its resolutions “have no teeth,” said Isaac Kamola, the graduate student council vice president for communications and a political science teaching assistant.

“Since we’re primarily an advisory role, we can’t get contractual language,” he said.

Karen Buhr, executive vice president for GAPSA, said the union’s relationship with the administration is different from student governments’.

“It’s more of an adversarial role,” she said. “We can talk about the idea of higher wages, but we don’t have the power to negotiate higher wages.”

Spreading the message

Buhr said GAPSA has offered to hold town hall meetings and use its resources to help the union distribute information. Those services, which the union has declined, would also be available to any group that formed to oppose the union, she said.

“In order to represent all of our constituents, we have to be neutral,” she said.

Houlton said GradTRAC doesn’t think the town hall format is the best way to spread the union’s message.

“That’s not the way we’re building the union,” she said. “When I go to talk with people Ö we have a very direct, frank, but informal conversation.”

She said most recruiting takes place face to face and within departments.

Jalal said GAPSA is considering independently distributing information pertaining to all sides of the debate.

“It’s definitely our responsibility to do that,” he said. “If (GradTRAC doesn’t) do it, we’ll probably do it ourselves.”

GAPSA and GradTRAC must work together to demonstrate that graduate students are united, said Dwijendra Guru, a mechanical engineering research assistant.

“I don’t see how the groups can represent the community without working together,” he said.

Union and GAPSA officials said they are keeping in contact and are on good terms.

“It’s no insult to GAPSA,” Murphy said. “We just think it doesn’t make our union the best union it can be to be giving lectures.”

If the state certifies that more than half of the University graduate student employees have joined GradTRAC, members will vote this spring to decide whether to let the union represent them in contract negotiations.

Officials from GradTRAC said they are confident their individualized recruiting tactics will lead to a successful election.