UC Berkeley graduate student researchers hold rally for union recognition

Photo of protestors for student researchers
Sakshi Shah/Courtesy
Student Researchers United calls for union recognition from the UC system. Demonstrators marched from University House to the chancellor's office, in hopes of forming a union with United Auto Workers to create more equitable working conditions for graduate student researchers.

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Members of Student Researchers United rallied in front of University House Wednesday, urging the UC system to recognize their petition to unionize.

Student Researchers United aims to form a union with United Auto Workers, or UAW, to gain the power to improve conditions for student researchers. The rally amassed close to 400 students, who marched from University House to the chancellor’s office, where some students proceeded to make speeches, according to Sakshi Shah, a campus graduate student researcher.

“The rally’s main purpose was to bring attention to our fight for union recognition and show that the fellows and trainees do the same work as grad student researchers,” Shah said. “Regardless of how we get paid, we all do the same work and we all deserve the same working conditions.”

She also noted that the student researchers were joined by members of UAW Local 2865 and UAW Local 5810, representing graduate student instructors and postdoctoral scholars, respectively.

Shah added that seeing the large turnout and amount of support was “energizing.”

“We stand in solidarity with the Student Researchers Union and their democratic choice to form a union and collectively bargain with the university,” said campus postdoctoral scholar Sarah Arveson in an email. “Student Researchers deserve legally protected access to these rights, none of which are required from the university without a contract.”

About 12,000 student researchers across the UC system signed a petition in May authorizing the creation of a union to protect the rights of graduate student researchers, fellows and trainees, according to Shah.

Shah added that the union would benefit student researchers by working toward higher wages, decreased rent for university housing, health care services for student-parents and protections for international students, among other benefits. It would also provide a streamlined process for reporting harassment and discrimination, she added.

“Union contracts create more equitable conditions for the most vulnerable workers — international workers, women, people of color, workers with disabilities, and the LGBTQ+ community,” Arveson said in the email. “Union contracts ultimately lead to better conditions for everyone.”

In response to the rally, the UC Office of the President, or UCOP, recognized the value of graduate student researchers in an email statement from UCOP spokesperson Ryan King, while noting that the graduate student researchers require a certified representative before beginning the collective bargaining process.

UCOP added that UAW filed to become the exclusive representative in the first of several more steps. “Every single worker has the right to join a union and organize for their collective rights,” said campus sophomore Jonah Gottlieb. “While the university might preach about equity in a press release, they’re fundamentally not upholding those rights by limiting this union.”

Kavya Gupta is an academics and administration reporter. Contact her at [email protected], and follow her on Twitter at @kavyaguptta.