My name is Jackie Johnson, and I’m a fifth-year PhD Candidate in the Cinema and Media Studies department. I’m also one of the members of the bargaining team, representing all USC Graduate Student Workers (GSWs) at the table! I’m writing to tell you about a pivotal moment in the union contract campaign, coming up this Thursday, June 15th. At the beginning of Thursday’s bargaining session, the bargaining team will introduce three proposals:
- Nondiscrimination, which would guarantee the right to interim measures and remedies during the resolution process, establish the option of an independent resolution process if the USC’s internal resolution process fails, empower us GSWs to conduct peer-led trainings, and increase access to gender-inclusive bathrooms and private spaces for lactation
- Immigration & Work Authorization, which would establish worker support systems for new international students including wraparound onboarding support, a legal fund for visa issues, coverage of visa fees, paid time off for visa/immigration proceedings, and protections against failures of the university to process work authorization paperwork
- Reasonable Accommodations, which would establish the right to reasonable accommodations for disabled GSWs and require the university to cover all costs associated with those accommodations
We — all of us GSWs — know that academia in general and USC in particular are not equitable nor safe places for all of us. Graduate-level education in the US has many issues, with rates of harassment second only to the military, precarious immigration rules that keep international students from speaking up against abuses and create unequal burdens, and countless wealth- and race-based barriers to entry.
Here at USC, we’re all likely familiar with the long, unfortunate history of USC administration covering up abuse. Further, many of us have personal stories of either experiencing or witnessing workplace harassment, discrimination, or bullying — without any real recourse. It’s clear that we Graduate Student Workers rightly lack faith in USC’s internal processes when such instances of bullying, harassment, and discrimination do occur: the GSWOC Workplace Climate Survey found that 3 out of 4 GSWs lack faith in the resolution process. This fundamental distrust keeps survivors from coming forward, and it creates a culture of silence and intimidation that makes the workplace unsafe for far too many marginalized GSWs.
GSWs are standing up to say: No More. Unions, including our own, are leading the way to create real, tangible change. With UC UAW locals making major strides last year to win industry-setting protections against workplace bullying, Harvard’s UAW Local 5118 establishing a legal fund for international GSWs, and unions across the country waging union campaigns around transforming academia, I know change is possible — I can feel it. This is a historic opportunity for USC Graduate Student Workers: for the first time, we have a real democratic say in our workplace, and we have a chance to win big at the bargaining table.
Winning strong articles in each of these areas will not be easy. We GSWs will not win everything we demand. Changing the status quo will require an immense amount of effort and solidarity. In a practical sense, it will require a cross-campus fight that shows USC administration that we’re willing to do what it takes to fight for equity. This Thursday, I’m asking you to show up, joining in solidarity with dozens of your fellow Graduate Student Workers to pack the room at 10am while the bargaining team introduces these critical articles. Together, we can win big.
Jackie Johnson, Cinema and Media Studies