Recently I have heard a bit of rhetoric and speculation involving the push by the Graduate Employees’ Organization to incorporate the wages and benefits of graduate student research assistants into their collective bargaining agreement. However, as far as hard facts are concerned, there is quite a bit left to be desired. The following is the opinion of a lowly engineer.

Here is what I know on the issue. GEO doesn’t represent me to the University, not even implicitly. The University desires to be a top-level research institution. As such, it employs my fellow graduate students and I as GSRAs. Yes, research is a primary mission of the University. Market forces dictate that if the University wants the best students then it needs to give good pay and benefits. The wage paid to graduate student instructors is one of a number of benchmarks that the University uses to determine a good GSRA wage. Many departments use different standards. Furthermore, all students employed as GSRAs with whom I have talked to state that they have excellent working conditions, pay and benefits. Also, their work as a GSRA has become, or is intended to become, their thesis work. Obviously, I cannot claim to speak for the students with whom I have not spoken. So, this is not a universal statement, just the pattern that I have noticed.

Beyond what I know, I have heard a lot of things both in favor and in disapproval of unionization. I have heard that GEO is the only guaranteed means for students to petition the University for the redress of grievances. I have also heard that students already have many options. I have heard secondhand stories about bosses forcing students to work unreasonable hours with no means of recourse. I have yet to hear confirmation of a single one of these stories. I have also, not even remotely, heard how the unionization of GSRAs would work to increase the pay or benefits of the students involved.

That being said, after filtering through all of the rhetoric and claims that are bouncing around, I cannot find a good reason why students should pay several hundred dollars in dues a year with no definite benefit. If someone could come forward with confirmable stories of unreasonable working conditions for students — where joining GEO would be the most reasonable recourse, or a good breakdown of wage and benefit disparity; where joining GEO would serve to correct this — then I might consider changing my view.

Andrew Crow
Rackham graduate student

Leave a comment

Your email address will not be published.