Living with uncertainty, graduate workers kick off series of actions
ST. LOUIS – With only 23 days until graduation, Washington University graduate workers, students, faculty and community allies rallied at the University’s 2018 Arts & Sciences Distinguished Alumni Awards Dinner on Wednesday, April 25. The rally, which is part of a series of planned events leading up to graduation, raised awareness of issues facing the entire Washington University community — and specifically graduate workers, who are students at the University.
While the administration reached out to graduate workers just before the rally to announce guaranteed funding for summer work, nothing is guaranteed and graduate workers request to sit down with administration to discuss specific implementation.
“I am joining together with my colleagues to join in the fight for better funding because of the outsized impact that our inconsistent pay has on international graduate students like myself,” said Augusto Medeiros, PhD Candidate, Physics. “As international students, we are completely reliant on the university to support us because our F1 visas do not permit us to work outside the university. Because of this, international students face the possibility of being forced to return home, pause our research, and face undue hardship simply because our nationality.”
With summer looming, graduate workers are not yet guaranteed they will be paid for work done during those months. Graduate workers cannot afford to go another summer living without pay while still being expected to work and produce research for the university.
“WashU refuses to guarantee pay over the summer even though our research doesn’t stop in June and July; when they do come through with payment, it’s not enough to live on,” said JB Duck-Mayr, a graduate worker in the Political Science department. “That means throughout the year I have to work extra hourly gigs to make sure I can support my family, which takes away time from my research, my students, and my children. A university with $12 Billion in assets should be able to guarantee a living wage to its workers twelve months of the year. WashU administrators have refused to meet with us about these issues, so that’s why I’m protesting with WUGWU to make our voices heard by the university administration.”
This uncertain future is why graduate workers and their supporters are standing up to build power on campus and resistance through events over the next several weeks, including this rally.
“I am taking action to guarantee summer funding and dignified funding year round for grad workers because it is wrong that I make less than $900 a month and receive no pay during the summer at a $12 billion university,” said Sarah Crosley, a teaching assistant in Classics. “I have made more money working as a kindergarten teacher reading books to toddlers in the summer than I do teaching undergrads who pay $50,000 a year to attend WashU.”
Graduate workers, along with their supporters in SEIU Local 1 and the wider community, will continue to fight for power at work and on campus and look forward to making meaningful improvements at Washington University. SEIU Local 1 has been working with graduate workers, college and university professors throughout the Midwest to give them a voice on the job; address the low compensation for their work; and to ensure greater benefits and job security.
If higher education truly wishes to help solve the world’s complex problems, it is essential that all voices get a seat at the table, including those of graduate student workers. At Washington University, we need to do more to ensure graduate student workers don’t have to choose between academic success and personal well-being.
We are “privileged to be here,” we graduate student workers are so often told, and we shouldn’t question issues of compensation if we are truly passionate about the work we do. But as long as Washington University insists that we are students only, graduate student workers receive none of the protections afforded to employees under the law, even while we are compelled to remain in this tenuous position in order to complete our degrees.
While Washington U. is ostensibly committed to its role as a beacon of higher learning in the St. Louis community, it is in fact run as a business — and an incredibly lucrative one, at that. But good businesses invest in their employees. By promoting the well-being of the whole employee, Washington U. stands to benefit from higher graduation rates, better job placement, better academic and teaching work, and a healthier spirit of collaboration between students and their faculty advisers.
I believe a graduate student worker union will offer those protections where the administration has failed to do so, resulting in better conditions for workers and increased productivity across the university.
Meredith Kelling • Maplewood
Meredith Kelling is an outstanding, graduate student activist with SEIU Local 1. Her Letter to the Editor appeared in the St. Louis Post-Dispatch on August 28th, 2017.
The four-year contract will increase wages and stabilize scheduling for the more than 250 part-time faculty members, who voted in March 2016 to unionize and join the Service Employees International Union Local 1.
“This ratification is a really big moment for SCC adjuncts in gaining respect and recognition on campus,” Lisa Decarli, part-time faculty member in sociology, said in a statement. “Through this contract, not only will we get pay raises, but we’ll also have increased job security, a formal grievance process, and a respected and powerful voice on campus.”
Congratulations to our Local 1 brothers and sisters at SCC on ratifying their first contract! Be sure to read the full story over at the St. Louis Business Journal.
ST. LOUIS • St. Louis University leaders and members of the Service Employees International Union have tentatively agreed on the first contract for adjunct faculty in the College of Arts and Sciences and School of Education.
The contract is still pending approval from union members within the next week.
The five-year contract comes more than a year after the SLU adjunct professors voted to unionize. Out of 156 eligible voters, 89 voted in favor back in March of 2016, and 28 voted against it.
There’s something terribly wrong with the picture on America’s college campuses today. Higher education institutions are charging top-dollar rates for that all-important degree, while students and parents receive skyrocketing tuition bills because state governments are cutting back on college funding.
Yet more than half the faculty in higher education today is made up of part-time teachers, also known as adjuncts, according to the American Association of University Professors. Their numbers jumped over the past decade as college and university administrators struggled to bulk up teaching staffs while keeping budgets low. The AAUP says the share of money spent on instruction has declined in every sector of higher education.
The demands placed on adjuncts are enormous, and they have well-founded reasons for asserting that their employment rights are being abused in the name of cost-cutting. Increasingly, part-time faculty members at American colleges are voting to form unions, in part to ensure that universities don’t continue shaving expenses at instructors’ expense.
Adjuncts at St. Louis University’s College of Education and College of Arts and Sciences voted overwhelmingly last week to unionize, following similar moves at Washington University and at St. Charles and St. Louis’ community colleges.
Washington University adjunct professors on Wednesday night held a candlelight rally to protest what they say are low wages and job insecurity.
More than 300 Washington University adjunct professors are currently bargaining their first contract. The workers in January voted to join Service Employees International Union Local 1.
The adjuncts are currently collectively bargaining their first union contract.