Student Researchers United hopes for union recognition
A group of graduate student researchers marched through UCSB’s mostly empty campus Wednesday, stirring up a sleepy quad.
They chanted through cupped fists and megaphones and waved signs: “Union busting is disgusting,” “The votes are in.”
More than 12,000 researchers compose Student Researchers United, a unionizing effort formed across University of California campuses with United Auto Workers.
California’s Public Employment Relations Board verified the researchers’ majority earlier this month, but the University of California has yet to recognize the union.
When asked for a statement on Wednesday’s protests (which stemmed across all the system’s campuses), the University of California sent the following response:
“The University of California recognizes the valuable role of our graduate student researchers in contributing to innovation and learning across our campuses. The United Auto Workers recently filed with the Public Employment Relations Board a petition seeking to become the exclusive collective-bargaining representative for UC graduate student researchers, which is the first of several steps in the formal process.
“That process is still ongoing. Generally, once a union becomes the certified representative of the employee unit at issue, UC and the union would then commence the collective-bargaining process.”
When PERB approved the petition, a 15-day countdown began for UC to respond, but UC later asked for an extension. Now, it has until Sept. 2 to raise objections or bargain.
“The UC is delaying any attempt we have at bargaining,” Becky Martin, an electrical and computer engineering researcher, told the News-Press. “In the meantime, we are working on developing a consensus within the graduate student community on what are their priorities when we go to the bargaining table.”
Some members are advocating for benefits like parental leave, but the overall concern of students they talked to is losing funding and becoming bound to an unfair project leader.
“Their payment is attached to a primary investigator who might be abusive, who might be pressing them to the limit in the number of hours or points working a week, their expectations might be too high. And these student researchers cannot navigate their way out of those situations,” Becky Martin said.
Graduate teaching assistants and tutors are unionized. The researchers have been denied the same ability because of research fellowships, but they don’t believe it is fair.
Many of Wednesday’s demonstrators discussed cost-of-living-adjustment rallies in early March 2020. Before they were involved in the unionizing effort, they still advocated for themselves.
Markus Merk, an international student researcher, recalled threats of deportation when international students participated in the COLA rallies.
“To prevent things like that from happening again, we need to stand together and try to form a union that recognizes all students and not only the U.S.,” he said in a speech.
Sheila Kulkarni, a graduate student researcher in the chemistry department, spoke about isolation.
The researcher, who uses the pronouns they/them, didn’t like losing privileges to a shared researcher lounge space, a room offered to first-year researchers who don’t yet have an office.
Further, they advocated for unity across all employees.
“We have to be in solidarity with contingent faculty, with undergrad workers who are working at the dining commons when we go and get our coffee from the company store, solidarity with our janitors and our maintenance workers and trade workers,” they said in a speech. “All the workers that help make this run.
“We are one of them. We are part of the community together. And that means we all have to fight for each other.”
As the researchers marched and chanted by a couple of workers who appeared to be janitors, the workers whooped and clapped in apparent solidarity.