I am a doctoral candidate and research assistant in the Department of Chemical Engineering and Materials Science. I am proud to carry out research in a top-notch department at a top-notch university.
I have a great relationship with my adviser and with my department, but I do not have a relationship with my employer. I have never been solicited by the University of Minnesota administration for any substantial input on terms of my employment, nor have I been given the opportunity to vote on the changes those terms.
With all the rhetorical noise about unionization, I want my fellow graduate assistants to be clear on one point. Regardless of how you feel about the issue, there is no in-between, there is no lukewarm. The status quo is autocratic. The University administration has all the power, and there is nothing that can compel them to listen to us. A union is democratic. The administration is legally bound to negotiate in good faith with a union. Unionized graduate assistants are peers in the decision making process. A union is our voice. I am increasingly troubled with detractors referring to the union as some foreign, outside entity. I am the union. I have talked with and signed up many of my fellow graduate assistants, just like many, many other passionate graduate assistants in departments all across the University. Graduate assistants are organizing this union, and it is insulting to imply otherwise.
People have expressed a concern that all RAs and TAs should not be covered by a single contract. What that fails to acknowledge is that a negotiated contract is far more nuanced than existing University policy dictating our employment. A negotiated contract would meet our needs because we decide what goes into it.
As a scientist and engineer, I care about data. The data bears out that a union will improve graduate assistants’ lives here at the University. I was proud to sign an authorization card. When the election occurs, I will again vote yes, and I ask all graduate assistants to vote yes also.