My name is Caleb, I’m in the second year of my program at PIBBS where I research climate change and public health. I’m emailing today with some more context around the news that USC will be providing U-Passes for every enrolled student.

Graduate Student Workers (GSWs) have been calling for no-cost U-Passes for years. Improving transportation is a top issue for us, and it has long been a central tenet of our organizing. Just last month, the GSWOC-UAW bargaining team proposed a free U-Pass at the bargaining table. I was surprised to see that USC admin had circumvented the bargaining table, but pleased to see the announcement of an exciting and hard-fought new benefit.

Under federal labor law, USC administration cannot unilaterally change worker benefits, nor can they add new fees, without first consulting the union. Although the new U-Pass is undoubtedly a good thing for GSWs, there are a few important concerns that need to be addressed. First, we need clarity on whether USC administration is planning to waive the new student fee established to fund the U-Pass program for all GSWs. In addition, without a strong union contract that protects our benefits, USC admin can remove benefits such as the U-Pass without GSWs having a democratic voice in the process.

To guarantee that all GSWs are entitled to no-cost public transit, we need strong contract language on fee remission guaranteeing that every GSW receives a waiver of all current and future fees. We also need contract language that enshrines the U-Pass as a guaranteed benefit. Finally, it’s critical to win a strong Grievance and Arbitration process that empowers GSWs to hold USC admin accountable and forces admin to implement the contract we eventually win. All three of these proposals are currently on the table after being proposed by the GSWOC-UAW bargaining team.

If we keep showing up and fighting hard, GSWs can make transformational improvements, not just to transit benefits, but to every aspect of graduate student life. Together, we can keep winning big!

In solidarity,
Caleb Schimke, PIBBS