A couple of weeks ago, many of my professors informed my classmates and me about the upcoming graduate worker strike. The moment the strike became the topic of conversation, hands went up. It felt like every undergraduate student had questions, such as “How will this affect our grades? Will we still meet in person?” and “Why are graduate workers striking, anyway?”
I had all of these questions, too. But with the amount of resources available to me, a quick Google search showed the justifiable reasons for the graduate workers’ persistence toward unionization. Graduate workers are simply asking to be fairly compensated for all they do for the university.
Though many undergraduate students are concerned about what this strike means for them, their concern shouldn’t hinder them from taking steps to ensure support for the Indiana Graduate Worker Coalition-United Electrical Workers.
I know participating might seem challenging. There are still classes in session and homework and finals to be done. But inaction is simply not worth the IU community’s comfortability when working conditions for graduate workers need to see an improvement.
According to Massachusetts Institute of Technology’s living wage calculator, the average Bloomington adult with no children would require an annual income of around $31,000 to afford basic necessities such as food, shelter and medical care, among others.
University Graduate School dean James Wimbush asserts graduate workers' annual compensation is about $51,000. This inflammatory number includes everything from stipends and tuition to insurance and various other benefits — many of which are not taxable earnings.
To put this problem into greater perspective, IU graduate worker Jeff Moscaritolo appeared as a guest columnist in The Herald-Times. His column described how IU administration gets paid more than livable wages while graduate workers get paid on the cusp of them.
While all the information about the IGWC-UE strike can be a bit overwhelming, undergraduates’ understanding of it is paramount in our ability to sacrifice minimal time and comfort to help graduate workers.
When students stop to think about the amount of work graduate workers put in day after day, it’s easy to understand their frustration. Consider a class in which a graduate student is the associate instructor — or even one where a graduate student is the sole teacher.
They have a lot of work to do. From grading to running discussion sections to giving lectures, graduate workers practically have a full-time job on top of their graduate-level classwork or research. While they understandably seek to keep their student status, they are just as much a worker as they are a student.
Asking for more equitable conditions for them to carry out all of these responsibilities isn’t radical. It’s practical.
Some graduate instructors ceasing to grade might feel frustrating. Participating in chants at a picket line might feel daunting. But graduate workers can use all the help they can get as they face an administration that is unwilling to recognize them as a legal union.
All the graduate workers want is unionization to negotiate what they feel is best for their current situation at IU. This isn’t possible without support — we all know there is strength in numbers.
If you have even a bit of interest in helping graduate workers, consider filling out this form to participate at the picket line Monday or Tuesday. The schedule and locations for the pickets can be found here. If you want more information and recent updates, visit the IGWC-UE Twitter page.
Elizabeth Valadez (she/her) is a freshman studying English and political science with a minor in Spanish. She is a member of Chi Alpha.