Graduate student researchers organize to form new union

photo of people organized for a protest
UAW/Courtesy
Graduate student researchers rallied Monday morning to begin the process of certifying Student Researchers United-UAW, a student worker union. 

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Graduate student researchers rallied in front of the Oakland headquarters of the California Public Employment Relations Board, or PERB, on Monday morning to begin the process of certifying a new student worker union.

The researchers’ campaign, known as Student Researchers United, has been working to organize a union to protect graduate student researchers, fellows and trainees. According to Katie Augspurger, a UCSF student and campaign organizer, its main goals are to better working conditions, protect against discrimination and democratize the workplace through equal pay and benefits. 

“This is a really big, momentous day for us,” Augspurger said. “It’s been really exciting to see all of our hard efforts over the last little over a year really come to fruition with our submission to PERB. Knowing that this union will be able to make sure that we include protections for all these students … (It) fills me with a lot of hope for future graduate students at UC.”

In order to become certified, an organization must submit signed union cards from 50% of the represented population, Augspurger said. She added that the union wanted more and secured cards from 60% of UC graduate student researchers.

More than 150 students and representatives from multiple UC campuses showed up in Oakland to support the submission of files for certification following PERB review. According to Augspurger, the certification process could take anywhere from a few weeks to months.

Augspurger said she often sees the UC system allegedly take advantage of people. However, she noted that the atmosphere at the rally was one of positivity and celebration. If certified, Student Researchers United-UAW will represent more than 17,000 UC graduate student researchers, according to a press release sent Friday.

According to UC Office of the President spokesperson Erika Cervantes, the university neither discourages nor encourages unionization.

“UC values its graduate student researchers and their many contributions to the University,” Cervantes said in an email. “UC supports employees’ right to choose for themselves and to make an informed decision.”

Since last spring, United Auto Workers, or UAW, Local 2865 and UAW Local 5810, a postdoctoral union, have assisted Student Researchers United in forming its campaign, according to Augspurger.

Once certified, Augspurger said the union intends to begin a democratic process to create a contract with the university to get union benefits in motion. Particular goals for the contract include securing more protection for international students, higher pay and better benefits such as child care and health care.

The specifics of the contract will be decided through bargaining surveys and ultimately voted on by union members.

“What will be really exciting is to see how each graduate student researcher’s voice is heard in bargaining surveys and seeing what ideas we can come up with the specifics we include,” Augspurger said. “Focusing to make this a democratic process is really what we want.”

Contact Dina Katgara at [email protected] and follow her on Twitter at @dinakatgara.