Home Education OPINION: Why a new Graduate Worker’s Union deserves your support

OPINION: Why a new Graduate Worker’s Union deserves your support

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Ohio U is mistreating its graduate students workers, and now they’re fighting back. Opinion writer Tim Zelina explains why you should support their union.

A new workers’ union may soon rise, and very well should rise, at Ohio University. The workers often forgotten — diligent TAs and laboratory assistants, the receptionists and number crunchers — whose humble work keeps the gears of campus turning have for years been pushed around by the university administration. These are the graduate student workers, and the level of mistreatment they receive demands immediate relief.

That relief is coming to them in the form of the Graduate Employee Organization, a quasi-labor union designed to fight the exploitation of graduate student workers. Graduate student unions are not recognized under Ohio law. GEO kicked off its activities with a scathing report on the administration’s treatment of its graduate workers. Now, the organization is taking action to address the concerns its research has revealed. All of the Bobcat family should rally behind it.

Athens’ robust student activist community is mobilizing under GEO to fight the injustice perpetrated against graduate student workers. Demands for paid parental leave, a substantial subsidization of the healthcare plan, increased stipends, a lowering of the graduate student fee and protections for international students have been united under the banner of the GEO. These crafty graduate students seek to form a medium of pressing their demands outside the suffocating confines of the Graduate Student Senate.

This is a key point of focus for GEO. Members are not participants in the GSS, nor will they be directly running candidates in the election, although they do have senate members in their organization. Tyler Barton, a key organizer of the union and a graduate student at Ohio U, made this point clear in an email interview. When asked if GEO had senatorial ambitions, he said GEO is “trying to organize outside of the ‘official channels’ that are maintained by the university.”

GEO is designed to offer a path forward after past experiences with the GSS failed to yield acceptable results, showing the university is unwilling to budge. It plans to function more as a traditional labor union, employing labor-denial tactics to peacefully pressure Ohio U into accepting its demands. The effectiveness of such a strategy cannot be understated. The administration may only humor the ultimately advisory senate, but it will fear an organized graduate student worker body capable of paralyzing the operation of the campus.

The union hopes to avoid the pitfalls that sank the last unionization attempt. In the view of  Barton, the key failure of the 2015 unionizing effort was that it operated through the forum of GSS. This one takes a more populist, member-oriented tone, which may attract broader support. The movement takes direction from its base, not from a leadership. This is a solid path for an organization that relies on an active membership for its strength.

Barton notes the most important work in the immediate future is strengthening the movement. The union effort is still in its infancy, so gathering awareness and fostering an image of broad support is important for both being taken seriously, and for becoming a force capable of taking on the administration. Currently, the union is trying to get signatories of support of the demands from the graduate student body.

For those who support the union effort, but may not be graduate students themselves, this is an opportunity to hop into action. Right now, what the union needs most is publicity and numbers. Presenting its demands will be fruitless without a powerful base promising support if the demands are rejected. If you know graduate student workers, encourage them to get in contact with the union effort. Graduate student workers, get active and join the union. Regardless of who you are, all can help do the groundwork. Simple acts like distributing the petition of demands or spreading awareness of the unionizing effort helps immensely.

To emphasize this point, it is important to note the union is a vessel of change, not the harbinger of it. As Barton clarified, “…we are centering our demands that will concretely improve the lives of graduate workers rather than the organizational goal of forming a union.” The union is first and foremost a unified representation of the needs of the graduate student worker body.

This democratic function means every graduate student worker has a voice in the direction of the movement. This is not a group to endorse; if you are a graduate student worker, you are the group. This is your voice. All graduate student workers have a vested interest in building this union. For the rest of us who are sympathetic, every action must be taken to ensure this movement’s success. Graduate student workers deserve to be treated with respect.

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