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Labor

The Scope Of Graduate Work

  • Teaching is Labor!
  • Research is Labor!
  • Study is Labor!

The work of a graduate employee on a teaching assistantship does not end at teaching. The work of a research assistant does not end at the lab. The primary work of a teaching assistant is the same as the primary work of a research assistant: expertise development. Expertise development is the core of our employment, not an afterthought! Through research, teaching, and study, we are actively transforming ourselves into experts in our fields. This is the very core of our labor, not merely a privilege afforded by the performance of our other duties.

The contracts we sign classify us as part-time employees but tacitly reflect that our fundamental job of becoming experts requires all of our time. The contracts therefore explicitly prohibit us from taking other major employment (in many departments). That is to say: the contracts we sign understand that our task is full time, yet fail to provide a salary that is either commensurate with the work we perform or sufficient to live nearby.

We must reject the perspective that our labor is half time. That perspective diminishes the goal of our academic institution, namely expertise development, and promotes a situation which enables our abuse.

Seeing ourselves now as full time workers, the course is clear: we need a union; we deserve a union.
The CRC is fighting to become our union.

You may wonder if you, as a graduate employee, are truly being abused. Consider the fact that the university claims graduate employees only teach 10% of all student course credit hours. This should sound far too low; it is! How do they attain such numbers? University reports credit recitation or laboratory hours to the instructors of record; graduate employees who teach these hours are not credited as having taught those courses1. Moreover, in coordinated courses with small sections, it is common for the course coordinator to be credited with teaching all sections of the course; the names of the graduate employees who actually taught those sections are not even listed.

You may believe that you don't deserve to be paid 30k or more, which is a minimal self sufficiency wage for the region. For example you may know school teachers with education certificates who make less than that, and believe that they have more experience and skills than you do right now. Two fallacies lie at the heart of that belief.

Two fallacies lie at the heart of that belief.

The first fallacy is the notion that a worker deserves a living wage contingent on their excellence. On the contrary, a worker deserves a living wage for full time work without reservation. Rewards beyond that may be appropriate for excellence, but all who work must be paid enough to live with dignity and security.

The second fallacy is that one should expect less than dignity and security when we see fellow workers experiencing worse conditions. But the US remains a staggeringly wealthy nation with ghastly accumulation of wealth in the hands of a few. Increasing our pay does not reduce the pay of the school teacher, the construction worker, the nurse, or the plumber. They deserve better wages too, and we fight for them in solidarity as part of a resurgent international labor movement.

You may think that a graduate employee union introduces antagonism between graduate employees and others within the university. This claim is a common talking point from administrators who seek to bust unions. It holds no water. Dozens of excellent universities worldwide have successfully integrated and welcomed graduate employee unions. These graduate unions have often mitigated conflict by equalizing undue power imbalances that lie at the source of antagonism. This is the principal role of any union.

If economics force your colleagues to exceed statutory occupancy limits on homes and therefore risk eviction; if the varying and mysterious dates of our pay cause them to incur late fees on rent and other bills; if the cost of daycare delays their graduation; if they need an expensive medical procedure that forces a choice between shelter and health... consider the benefits a union can bring and stand with us in the push for a better university.

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