Graduate students often work in the capacity of employees, yet do not receive the same compensation or treatment an employee would receive for doing the same tasks and work. Unions are noticing this, and they are organizing grad students.
The UAW is one union who took notice and organized graduate students at the University of Connecticut. UCONN GEU-UAW Local 6950 President Jordan McMillan joined the AWF Union Podcast to discuss her experience in the union and what is at stake in upcoming negotiations.
Getting involved with the union
McMillan became involved with the union in 2014 when she was a first year graduate student at UCONN. She befriended a union organizer whom she worked with doing research, and has not looked back since.
While union activity was already well underway when she arrived, McMillan was involved in the initial certification drive in 2014. Graduate students seeked to organize because their workload continually increased while pay was stagnant.
She said the graduate students were seen as employees when convenient for the university, but as students when it came to workers rights and compensation.
Since the union was established, graduate student pay has increased reflective of their workload and they have obtained great health insurance, something she will miss when she graduates.
Fall bargaining efforts
The contract of the 2,200 graduate students will be renegotiated in the fall, with everything on the table according to McMillan. She said nothing is safe and everything is up for grabs.
One main area of concern is health insurance premiums, something she says are currently affordable. The bargaining unit will look to protect these premiums and ensure they will be affordable for the membership. She also said the sexual harassment and discrimination clauses will be important to protect.
Confidence in the bargaining unit is high, as the organizing team has blown her away in their ability to come together in order to create change and win a quality contract.