Graduate workers hold second annual rally for graduate rights

Coalition of Graduate Workers co-chair Eric Scott: “Each one of us is not that powerful in comparison to the grand monolith of the university, but when we stand together, when we are united together, we are a power that can shake these columns.”

MU graduate students, led by Coalition of Graduate Workers co-chair Eric Scott (far left), begin their march across campus from the Columns to Traditions Plaza. Photo by Jaeyoon Whang

Gathered in front of the Columns in a sea of red shirts, the Coalition of Graduate Workers and the Forum on Graduate Rights held a rally today, beginning at the Columns and ending with a series of speakers at Traditions Plaza. Coalition co-chair Eric Scott began the rally with a megaphone, speaking of unionization.

“Each one of us is not that powerful in comparison to the grand monolith of the university, but when we stand together, when we are united together, we are a power that can shake these columns,” Scott said.

This time last year, graduate students held a walk-out after the university gave them 13 hours advance notice that their health insurance coverage would not be renewed. After this first protest, the graduate rights forum formed and began collecting signatures to hold a union authorization election.

The coalition, which started as a branch of the forum, held the election in April. Graduate workers voted in favor of the union, but the university has not formally recognized it. The coalition brought a lawsuit against the university, which is working its way through the courts.

“We now have a lawsuit in the Boone County circuit court so that our union will be recognized by the university,” sociology doctoral candidate David Elliott said. “It’s actually a frivolous lawsuit because it’s a point of law that’s unnecessary. The administration is wasting taxpayer dollars now, paying for this union besting lawyer, over something that didn’t need to be questioned.”

This year, both the workers coalition and the graduate rights forum met to both recognize and celebrate their successes and to reaffirm their goals for the upcoming school year. They plan to continue advocating for affordable housing, child care, a living wage and their healthcare.

The National Labor Relations Board ruled on Tuesday that graduate student workers attending private universities have the right to form unions, but this ruling does not apply to public universities, such as MU.

However, graduate workers are hopeful that this ruling will set a legal precedent and that there will soon be a ruling concerning public institutions.

“Last year, departments showed unanimous support for the graduate students,” said Rabia Gregory, an associate professor of religious studies. “We, as faculty, did this because we knew that graduate students are vulnerable to harsh repercussions if they speak out alone without support from people who have more power than they do.”

Elliot believes that having a union that is legally recognized by MU would not only protect and benefit graduate students, but could also be helpful to the general public.

“Unions have gotten a bad reputation in the last generation, but when you go back to say World War II, most veterans from WWII were members of unions,” Elliott said. “It’s extremely patriotic, and in my view it’s actually good for the university, and good for the state’s economy.”

Edited by Kyra Haas | @khaas@themaneater.com

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