Why do graduate students need a union?
Unionization pushes back against the march of precarity in academic labor marked by unequal funding packages for grad students, ever-growing rates of adjunct and contingent faculty positions widening the income gap in the professoriate, and the increasing power of the administrative class in higher education as it moves farther away from shared governance and closer to a fully corporate model. Formally recognizing and compensating academic labor is one way to counter the race to the bottom logic that drives the adjunctification of the University and greatly devalues the academic labor of adjuncts, tenured faculty, and graduate students alike. Unionization of graduate workers, especially at a leading institution like Brown, is crucial both to making the next generation of researchers and teachers aware of these important changes and to equipping them with the skills to challenge them.
Furthermore, unionizing gives graduate workers a contract they can enforce, improving morale and creating a better environment for their growth as workers and students. Indeed, a contract will improve faculty/grad student relationships because it delineates responsibilities and outlines our rights as workers whose labor you oversee when grads are working as teaching and research assistants. In addition, having clear cut rules about our working relationship prevents unintentional work exploitation and fosters a sense of equity and trust necessary for a robust scholarly community. Having a union advocating on our behalf for safe and fair working conditions makes it much easier for us to do our jobs, focus on our research, and thrive in our programs.
But don’t Brown graduate students receive a competitive package?
Brown prides itself on offering a package that is in line with our peer institutions. But this package was created without the input of graduate students, and without a union, there is no guarantee that it will remain the same.
What can I do to help?
You can help by committing to providing safe working conditions and reasonable workloads, advocating for workplace protection for graduate employees within your department or lab, respecting your graduate students’ decisions to get involved in the union effort, or, even joining graduate students in the union effort. If you have any questions or would like to reach out to us in solidarity, please email us.