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The Point: Look Through Any Window


Grad labor is on the march!

If you read any academic labor news I’m sure you have noticed that graduate worker unions around the country are enjoying a wonderfully robust moment.  It has been particularly heartening to see fair coverage in the mainstream press of what has led to strikes at Columbia University (full and very proud disclosure: my daughter is part of this action) and across the river at Harvard University.  Across the country, 17,000 student researchers in the University of California system voted to form a union. The system administration has dug its heels in, refusing to recognize these workers’ right to unionize.

We should all care about and commit whatever support we can spare to these graduate unions.  Universities literally cannot function without the labor of graduate student workers. They educate students, produce research, and assist faculty in all manner of core functions. Additionally, graduate labor unions act as an important check on university corporatization, as Deeb-Paul Kitchen II and others have made clear.

The issues being raised by graduate worker unions tend to be similar across various campuses—fair compensation that adequately reflects the cost of living and inflation, real protection against all forms of discrimination and harassment, and the necessary protections for union security.  The graduate worker union on our own campus ( is in a similar position—though of course we should note that their pay is quite a bit lower than their colleagues across the river—and they cannot strike.

Last week my wonderful colleague José E. Martínez-Reyes took over this column and wrote an urgent piece about public service loan forgiveness in which he reminded us that “student debt is crippling our society and there must be substantial transformations to end the student loan crisis.”  Do you work with graduate student workers? Do you have any idea how much debt they will incur in the process of completing their graduate degree? Do you know if they take on second or third jobs off campus in order to make ends meet—which seriously interferes with the work they are on campus to do in the first place? It is core to our work as educators at a public majority-minority university to dedicate ourselves to working for economic justice on our campus. 

We get plenty of communication from Command Central reminding us that upper administration is committed to transforming UMass Boston into an antiracist and health-promoting university. In fact just last week the provost sent an email blast noting that as “we move from equity talk to equity walk, we must look for inequities” and “question the biases and structures that perpetuate inequities.”  To borrow a title from the Hollies, we don’t have to look far—look through any window any time of day.

It is time for our administration and its bargaining team to treat the grad union with dignity and respect.  We were disheartened to read a bargaining update from GEO earlier this semester that made it clear that after a six-week break, the administration returned to the table with literally no proposals.  We recognize that what appears as lack of preparation is a time-tested management strategy that often is followed by a push to make agreements in a hurry to protect raises and so on.  We understand that university administrators tend to operationalize the vulnerability of graduate workers in ways that reproduce systems of inequity that skew along lines of race and class.  And we pledge always to stand with UMass Boston’s graduate workers as they strive for a fair contract: to paraphrase a slogan from a staff union across the river, UMass Boston works because they do.

This is your union! Please let us know at how you think we can all best work to support the graduate workers on our campus.


Jeff Melnick

American Studies Department

Communications Director, Faculty Staff Union Executive Committee

For information on the FSU, links to our contract and bargaining updates, and a calendar of events, see the FSU webpage