My name is Zak, and I’m a 4th-year PhD Candidate and Assistant Lecturer in the English department, also helping out with our union.

I’m writing today with some important context, and a bit of reflection, as we Graduate Student Workers enter our last push to cap off our historic and transformative campaign for a first union contract. 

I’ve been helping organize our union for over three years. I’ve seen our collective grow from a small and dedicated group of Graduate Student Workers into a powerful movement of thousands across USC. Through collective action, we’ve made history, forming the first academic worker union at USC and becoming the first Graduate Student Worker union at a private university in California.

Before we even began to negotiate our first contract, the power we GSWs built secured a 5% raise for most Graduate Student Workers at USC. When USC admin announced a 5% raise last December, the day after we filed for union recognition, they didn’t do so out of the goodness of their hearts — they did so because they knew that we were organized and ready to fight for a fair wage. 

Over 300 GSWs march on Bovard Administration Building on August 31st

Since then, GSWs’ power and success has only grown. At the bargaining table, already, we’ve won:

  • Industry-leading childcare benefits as part of a $400,000 annual fund, which will provide up to $1,800 in childcare funding, per semester, per child, to parent GSWs
  • Just Cause protections, which guarantee that Graduate Student Workers cannot be disciplined or terminated without just cause
  • A grievance process that enshrines the right to clear timelines and independent arbitration — a process independent of USC that GSWs can use when our rights are violated
  • A legal fund to provide financial support to international GSWs who lose visa status
  • New protections for international GSWs, including paid time off for visa proceedings and re-hiring protections for workers who lose and then regain visa status
  • A waiver of all mandatory University fees, including the new Transportation fee 
  • Reasonable accommodations for disabled GSWs, which ensure timely accommodations that don’t cause GSWs to be bounced back and forth between OSAS and HR
  • Enforceable industry-leading leave policies, including one semester of guaranteed parental leave and health leave, as well as five annual sick days and five days of bereavement leave
  • Guaranteed participation in the Metro U-Pass program
  • And much more!

None of this would have been possible without Graduate Student Workers’ organizing efforts. USC knows the power of our labor, and they know that us withholding our labor would have a hugely disruptive effect. 

Much has been written about USC’s bad-faith bargaining that has prevented a fair agreement on three core issues:

  • Wages, where USC administration has offered $0 in additional money for this year and unacceptably low increases for future years
  • Nondiscrimination, where USC administration has proposed that protections from harassment and discrimination be unenforceable under the contract and subject only to USC-controlled processes
  • Union Security, where USC administration has proposed denying GSWs the decision to form a union shop, in order to dilute the power of our union

We the workers have laid the foundation for an excellent first contract. If we want to win a fair wage, real protections from harassment and discrimination, and strong union security, however, Graduate Student Workers must make one final push. 

Join me in committing to the last stage of Our Fight. If USC admin doesn’t come to the table with fair offers before November 28th, I’ll see you on the picket line.  

In solidarity,
Zak Breckenridge