We voted Yes for a better, more democratic USC!
Voting “yes” to form a union will allow us, as USC Grad Student Workers, to collectively bargain with USC administration for the first time. With a union, USC administration will have a legal obligation to negotiate with our elected GSW representatives over pay, benefits, and workplace protections – and to secure any agreements on improvements or maintaining current benefits in a legally binding and enforceable contract. Every GSW will be able to participate in the bargaining process through surveys, town halls, bargaining updates, and more. Every GSW will have the opportunity to vote on whether or not to ratify any proposed contract before it goes into effect.
Through thousands of conversations, GSWs have expressed struggles with earning less than a living wage, poor dental and healthcare benefits, discrimination and abusive conduct, and a lack of protections and support for international students. These challenges add to the stress experienced by graduate employees and exacerbates inequities in higher education.
Right now, USC administration unilaterally decides if, when, and how to address challenges faced by Grad Student Workers. With collective bargaining, we can meet at the bargaining table as equals. With strong participation and support from the entire GSW community, we can bargain a union contract that better meets our needs.
Over 100,000 other academic employees – including graduate employees, postdocs, research scientists, and adjunct faculty – have also chosen to collectively bargain and join UAW. Together, this movement is leading to rapid improvements in higher education like higher wages, improved healthcare benefits, protections from discrimination, sexual harassment, and abusive conduct, better job security, parental leave and childcare support, and more support for international scholars. Vote “yes” to collectively bargain, democratically decide what is important for us at USC, and continue to make working in higher education better for everyone.
“Forming a union will empower us to collectively bargain for our rights. I believe many things can be achieved if we follow in the footsteps of graduate student workers at other universities that have successfully formed a union, increased their wages, and fought for transparency, more reliable healthcare, and fair treatment.“
– Alisa Peshina, Biomedical Engineering
“In the US, worker unionization has been the only path towards achieving fair wages, safe working environments, health benefits, and many other conditions that make life livable as a laborer. Now, the gears driving the nation’s knowledge, the graduate student researchers, wish to use our voice to advocate for safe, supportive, and just working environments. I believe that an academic system that better values its driving force of research will improve the science of this country as a whole. I believe that we Trojans can be a force of change that leads this effort.“
– DJ Fernandez, Molecular Microbiology and Immunology
Stronger protections against bullying, discrimination, and abusive conduct
“Graduate students should be on equal footing with faculty to keep the university accountable for its faculty’s emotional, financial, and physical abuses. No student, regardless of identity or history, should fear retaliation for speaking up for themselves and their fellow graduate student workers.”
– Piril Nergis, Electrical Engineering
Discrimination, harassment, and abusive conduct is too common in higher education. A recent survey conducted by Nature found that 1 in 5 grad students faced gender or racial-based discrimination, and another study found that early-career researchers from abroad are more likely to be threatened with termination. Our own survey, completed by 960 USC GSWs, found that 40% of respondents had experienced or witnessed some form of discrimination, harassment, or bullying.
This is unacceptable. By forming a union, we can negotiate for strong, survivor-centered protections and hold USC accountable. At other major research universities like UCLA, the University of Washington, Harvard, and Columbia, graduate employee unions have won strong protections like enforceable timelines, union representation, protection from retaliation, and the option to appeal to a neutral third-party arbitrator for cases of harassment, discrimination, and abusive conduct. With a union, we have more power to be heard, to determine our right to a safe and healthy workplace, and to ensure that our rights are enforced.
Inside Higher Ed: At Long Last: A Contract for Columbia Student Workers
As teachers and researchers, our work powers USC. Grad Student Workers teach classes, grade papers, perform experiments, write research papers, contribute to patents, help write research grants, and more. Simply put, USC would not be considered a top-tier university without our work.
And yet, GSWs make below a living wage for the City of Los Angeles, and most of us face rent burden (defined as spending more than 30% of our monthly income on rent). Frequent cases of late pay make this situation even worse, especially for those of us that moved here from abroad. With a union, we can work together to negotiate with USC for higher pay for every graduate student worker. As academic employees throughout the country continue to form unions, we are raising the standards for “competitive pay” throughout the US.
The New York Times: N.Y.U. and Union Agree On Graduate-Student Pay
USC froze wages for multiple years in the Viterbi School of Engineering, leading to a loss in wages when adjusted for inflation.
A stronger voice for international student workers
An estimated 40 – 50% of Grad Student Workers at USC are international and living in the US on student visas. International students can face multiple unique challenges. By unionizing we can negotiate for greater legal and structural support. We can also seek greater workplace protections – like protection from unfair termination, abusive conduct, and unreasonable work expectations – that are especially impactful for the international student community. We can also create a community so we don’t have to face problems alone and gain a stronger voice at USC and in the national landscape.
With 100,000 academic workers across the US, including graduate employees, postdocs, and research scientists, and non-tenure track faculty, UAW nationally and locally has become a leading voice advocating for expanded opportunities for international students. By joining together, international grad student workers have a stronger voice to advocate for policies like increased access to OPT and opposing limits on international student visas.
“As an international, first-gen, LGBTQIA+ graduate student, I have faced constant hurdles through my years in graduate school that have caused significant distress in my life. I believe forming a union is the only way we can ensure a safe, supportive, equitable, just, and respectful working environment.”
– Pragya AryaPsychology
Graduate Student Workers at a GSWOC-UAW International Students town hall
Better benefits and support for grad student worker families
USC’s Keck Medicine is one of the major healthcare providers for the LA area, yet as student workers we lack adequate health benefits. Our healthcare is insufficient to meet the needs of students with chronic conditions or disabilities and, combined with low wages, we find ourselves one major healthcare need or billing mixup away from financial disaster. Additionally, our dental plan is a low-cost “table of allowance plan” that leaves us covering the costs of many dental procedures.
Grad student workers with dependents (children or spouses without their own insurance plans) are simply out of luck – USC does not offer dependent health insurance. With a union, we can negotiate for increased support for student families, including dependent health care, paid parental leave, childcare support, and more.
“Many of us have faced health issues and bills because of stress imposed by academia. Despite this, graduate students have little voice over improving pedagogy, new hiring decisions, and protecting ourselves from abusive treatment by faculty or USC. Forming a union enables us to advocate for equitable and healthy working conditions including better pay.”
– Tori Cassady, Earth Sciences
“When I was a first year graduate student, I found out we don’t really have dental or eye insurance. Our physical and mental health as graduate students depends on having a safe and harassment-free workplace, a healthy work-life balance, and adequate healthcare.”
– Stepp Mayes, Civil and Electrical Engineering
Joining UAW and a Movement in Higher Education
Over 100,000 academic employees across the US have already chosen to join UAW. This includes Student Workers and Postdoctoral Researchers at Columbia University, Harvard Graduate Employees, University of California Academic Student Employees, Student Researchers, Postdocs, and Academic Researchers, and many more. In just this past year, Research Scientists and Engineers at UW voted 85% in favor of unionizing with UAW, Mt. Sinai Postdoctoral Researchers voted 89.5% in favor of unionizing with UAW, and Worcester Polytechnic Institute Grad Employees voted 96% in favor of unionizing with UAW. And at other Universities, like Caltech, additional academic employees are also working toward joining UAW. By uniting together, academic employees are driving up standards in higher education and building a powerful voice for grad workers, postdocs, research scientists, and non-tenure track faculty.