UC Student-Workers Union organized statewide, UC Davis grade-in

BRIAN LANDRY / AGGIE

Grade-in publicized graduate student work, raised awareness for upcoming contract renegotiations

On Tuesday, Dec. 12, the UC Student-Workers Union (UAW) Local 2865 coordinated a statewide grade-in in order to increase the visibility of the work done by graduate student workers throughout the UC system. UC Davis’ grade-in was held at the CoHo from 9:30 a.m. to 1:30 p.m. More than 50 graduate students attended. They congregated at multiple large tables to complete end-of-quarter work and grading.

A poster board which asked graduate students “How much grading do you have to do?” was posted on a window of the CoHo. Post-it notes attached to the board answered: “58 (5-6 page) term papers,” “40 papers (6-10 pages), 40 finals, 40 take-home essays,” “60 essay questions, 40 quizzes, 40 response papers,” “72 lab reports/week” and “50 essays, 50 final exams.”

According to Amara Miller, the head steward of the UC Davis UAW unit and a Ph.D. candidate in the Department of Sociology, the work graduate students do for the university, including research, “contributes to the appeal of the UC system for potential students,” and the universities also profit “from research work through grants or private contracts that we work on.”

Essentially, graduate students on campus are currently doing a great deal of labor to support undergrads through their classes whether as teaching assistants, associate instructors (acting professors […] who get paid roughly $200 more than a TA does), tutors, and readers,” Miller said via email. “Most of this labor, though, is often done in spaces that are not visible to the broader campus community and to undergraduates, whether that is grading from our homes or working on our research in our offices/lab spaces.”

Maggie Downey is a fifth-year Ph.D. candidate studying social welfare at UC Berkeley. Downey talked about the importance of making private graduate work public.

“A lot of academic work […] can be lonely and isolating, so [the grade-in] is a way for us to come together and sort of share the work we do,” Downey said. “It’s also a way our undergraduate students [can] see us doing the work and make sure that they know that this is about us wanting to give them the best mentorship and feedback that we can. We also want the UC administration, the UC Regents [and] the UC chancellors to know how much we value our students’ work. Our own working conditions are student-learning conditions.”

The grade-in also raised awareness about the upcoming contract renegotiations between UAW 2865 and the UC Office of the President which begin in February. Savannah Hunter, a second-year Ph.D. student at UC Davis studying sociology, who is also a recording secretary for the union, discussed the 12 different bargaining goals the union has outlined.

“All throughout Fall Quarter, members could vote to let us know what things were priorities for them, and these were the list of 12 things that were collected,” Hunter said. “One of the biggest things, of course, is increased compensation. Housing across all the UCs is really expensive and there’s not enough housing. We also want UCD to be established as a sanctuary campus.”

Another bargaining goal is the complete remission of tuition and fees, specifically for international students. Tanaya Dutta Gupta, an international Ph.D. student studying sociology, said she is especially supportive of the proposed fee remission.

Undergraduate student workers, who might work as tutors or readers, are also protected by the same contract up for renegotiation. Additionally, Hunter stated that the contract also impacts undergraduates who are not student workers.

“We do a lot of the work that’s vital to make the university run — TAs actually provide about half of the contact hours for undergrad students,” Hunter said. “If we’re underpaid, and we don’t have housing and we don’t have healthcare benefits, it’s really going to affect the quality of education that undergrads get.”

Michael Culshaw-Maurer, a third-year Ph.D. candidate in the graduate group in ecology and a head steward of the union, emphasized the importance of establishing consistency. Culshaw-Maurer said he alternates between holding a TA position and a research position, which is common among graduate students.  

“You’re not a completely different person, you’re not a completely different student, but your rights, your pay [and] your contract varies wildly across those different positions,” Culshaw-Maurer said. “What we want is to establish continuity of rights and benefits for graduate students regardless of what their position is throughout the year.”

Culshaw-Maurer said he is hopeful that all 12 bargaining goals will be met.

“We’re building a lot of solidarity here,” Culshaw-Maurer said. “We’ve had a lot of really good turn-out at events recently, statewide our membership is going up, we’ve been doing a lot of outreach [and] a lot of organizing. I feel really confident we’re going to have a good result this coming year. We’re going to win.”

 

Written by: Hannah Holzer — campus@theaggie.org