Monday, November 29, 2021

Unionizing would hurt grad students

I am encouraging graduate students to vote against unionization.

If students don’t get out and vote, the decision will be made only by a select few who feel strongly about the issue. That decision will affect all current and future teaching assistants.

Implicit in the effort to organize a TA union is the assumption that TAs are an exploited traditional workforce. While I recognize that all is not perfect in TA-land, this assumption is flawed.

Consider this: As a TA you go to school virtually for free, are given a job that is related to your career with full benefits and the knowledge you gain is often directly related to your career, while providing you with a number of skills required to be a professional in your field (e.g. public speaking, planning and organizing, explaining written material, etc.). That seems like a great deal to me.

Given that collective bargaining (as a result of unionization) is most appropriate as protection against an exploited workforce, I fail to see how it applies to a TA-ship. Furthermore, being a teaching assistant is simply not a traditional employment situation. While collective bargaining may be useful in situations where demands are unilaterally placed on the career employee, a TA-ship is a collegial academic apprenticeship and is a stepping-stone toward a career, not a career in itself - or at least I hope not.

Despite the problems with the assumptions underlying a TA union, in practicality it will cause more harm than good. The additional resources required for increased compensation or administration costs incurred by arbitration and legalities must come from somewhere. It makes sense that this could result in serious losses, such as fewer TA slots.

These drawbacks were actual realities at the University of Iowa - it had to cut back the number of graduate assistants as a result of increased expenditures in funding graduate students after unionization. So unless we are in a situation where all graduate students who want an assistantship can be given one (which we are not), then we only end up increasing the disparity between those who have a TA-ship and those who want one but aren’t fortunate enough to secure one. Whom shall we rob?

I strongly urge everyone eligible (currently only teaching assistants) to vote on this issue. If you don’t, a decision will be decided for you that will affect you. The vote will take place from 10 a.m. to 7 p.m. April 19 and from 10 a.m. to 1 p.m. April 20 at the International Center.

Michael Gillespie
psychology graduate student


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