Letters on the graduate student union

Multiple authors

IâÄôd like to open by thanking the Minnesota Daily for recent editorial statements in support of graduate studentsâÄô efforts to unionize. You, the undergraduate population, stand to benefit from this important change in the way the University of Minnesota does business. As your tuition continues to rise and class sizes continue to grow, it seems necessary to ask: Who is coming through the current fiscal âÄúcrisisâÄù with the least amount of belt-tightening and pain?

Not undergraduates: YouâÄôre the victims of the latest iteration of do-more-with-less faux esprit de corps. Not the grad students: We teach larger classes for the same pay. Our tuition waivers are great and so is the health care, but those benefits donâÄôt increase with class sizes; they, and our rates of pay, have remained roughly flat as class sizes have risen by as much as 25 percent. Many positions at the University have been on a pay freeze for some time now, and the truth is that wage reductions and freezes hit the lowest paid workers the hardest. But there is an even bigger question at stake here: Why does the administration seem to think it is appropriate to compensate themselves as if this were a for-profit corporation when it is no such thing?

The University is one of the great public institutions in the state and in the country, but it has lost its public ethos. The Daily has published several recent articles about the ballooning costs associated with administrative salaries. If the administration claims that increases in administrative pay are a national trend, say âÄúso what?âÄù This is a university, the place to figure out better ways of doing things, and not all trends are worth following.

What about the millions spent on (losing) coaches? Is there nobody willing to do those jobs for $50,000 a year? LetâÄôs put an ad in the paper and see how many responses we get. We would hardly be less competitive in many sports. Finally, what value do the people making the big money really provide? Do you see them in classes? Do you feel your college experience has been enhanced? I was once an undergraduate here, and my first semester tuition bill was about $1,200. Yours is several times that, and for what? Graduate students are made to explain why we are integral to the UniversityâÄôs mission in order to beg for small concessions. When do we ask the people at the top to justify their existence? We can change the University. Stay informed, pay attention and take a stand for justice, fairness and a better University.

 

Gabriel Shapiro âÄî doctoral candidate, cultural studies and comparative literature

 

Union organizers assert that a graduate employee union will halt the University from unilaterally altering graduate employee pay or benefits. However, the United Auto Workers constitution gives authorization of a unilateral takeover of a local chapter.

The UAW constitution Article 12 Section 3 states:

âÄúWhere necessary to … assure carrying out the legitimate objectives of this International Union by such subordinate body [i.e. the local chapter], the International Executive Board by a two-thirds vote of the entire Executive Board may, after a hearing, reorganize or disband the chartered subordinate body, revoke the charter, suspend any officer or officers from office and/or take over supervision of the chartered subordinate body until its affairs have been properly adjusted.âÄù

If the local unionâÄôs objectives differ from that of the international union, the international executive board can unilaterally wrest control away from the local. This has previously occurred with UAW graduate employee unions at the University of Massachusetts Amherst and University of California Santa Barbara. It is likely objectives of graduate employees will differ from the objectives of auto workers, such as on environmental and immigration issues, meaning the above statement could be easily invoked. Why should I be willing to trust the union more than the University, both of whom have objectives differing from my own and the power to unilaterally submit me to their objectives?

 

Benjamin Bangasser âÄî graduate assistant