Why some UMN grad students want to organize

UMN-winter 007

Last week I covered a forum on a group of University of Minnesota graduate students who want to unionize.

On the radio, I mentioned the group’s desire to have a greater say in their working conditions. But typical reporter that I am, I needed to get to the issue of why they thought they needed a greater say.

(If the union and more democracy are supposedly solutions to a problem, I figured, I wanted to know what that problem was.)

I quoted panelist and graduate student Cecilia Aldarondo, who told me:

“Some people have, say for example, not seen a raise in several years. Other people have children and have to shell out, you know, many hundreds of dollars for dependant care. Other people are working in situations in which they are asked to work far and above the hours that they’re being paid to work.”

The next day, she wrote me an e-mail. She sounded a little worried that I’d focused too much on a few examples.

She wrote:

I want to stress that we do not do issues-based organizing on this campaign.  Everyone has a different reason for supporting unionization.  The point of forming our union is that we will be setting up a democratic process that currently does not exist, in which our voices will be heard, and the university will be required to negotiate with us on equal footing.  When we form our union everyone in the unit will have the opportunity to raise their concerns.  But it’s not for me to set the agenda, it’s for us to do it collectively.  This is what unionizing is ultimately about.

Fair enough.