Friday, January 21, 2022

Grad union would improve benefits

I am writing in response to two letters that appeared in The State News last week concerning the Graduate Employees Union (“Unionizing would hurt grad students,” SN 4/2 and “Questions raised by grad union,” SN 4/6).

I am one of the 1,200 graduate students who already have joined GEU, and I am confident a union will improve the lives of graduate students at MSU.

Before coming to MSU, I was a member of the graduate employees’ union at the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee. The union at Milwaukee was formed in 1992, and as a direct result of the efforts of the union, graduate employees at UWM receive a number of benefits that students at MSU do not receive.

For example, graduate assistants at Milwaukee receive the same health insurance coverage that all Wisconsin state employees receive, including faculty and staff at UWM. This includes benefits for spouses and dependent children. In addition, UWM students have received yearly pay increases commensurate with inflation, and the university issues all graduate assistants a full tuition remission. The union was able to negotiate these things without causing a reduction in the number of graduate assistants at the university.

If schools like UWM, Wayne State University and the University of Michigan can pay their graduate assistants a living wage and provide them with health insurance equal to faculty insurance, so can MSU. Are we worth less? Is our health not as important as students at Wayne State?

With GEU, we will have a seat at the bargaining table with the university. Right now we can only make suggestions to the administration about health care, salary, tuition, etc., but the administration is free to completely ignore our proposals.

GEU consists of graduate students from all across the university. We are capable of looking out for our own best interests, and by doing so we will be better served than allowing the administration to do that entirely for us.

Judging by the decisions I’ve seen the administrations make during the past several years, I would rather participate in the decision-making process than sit by and watch as our salary and benefits continue to erode in comparison to other Big Ten universities.

Peter Cunningham
anthropology graduate student


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