Uniting GSRs and GSIs at the UCs
Ideally, a university is a harmonious space of scholarly exchange. But in reality, we’re often fragmented and unaware of what’s happening on our campuses outside of our own labs and classrooms. At the UCs, this fragmentation manifests in many ways: We hear about the supposedly unbridgeable gulf between the sciences and the humanities. Also, we note the differences between GSIs, those who teach (TAs, readers, tutors, etc.), and GSRs, those who research (also known as Research Assistants). And yet, we also know that these divisions are artificial. Many of us pursue interdisciplinary research, bridging ostensibly separate fields. Furthermore, over the course of our time at the UC, most of us actually do a mix of teaching and research.
Legislatively, these artificial divisions have become somewhat entrenched. For example, with much support from graduate students in STEM fields, the UC’s graduate student union (UAW 2865) has fought for several years for GSRs’ rights to be recognized alongside GSIs. But time and again, the Governor has vetoed bills that have moved through the House and Senate that would enable GSRs a voice in shaping their own contracts. The right to GSR recognition remains an ongoing struggle.
[SO WHAT? WHAT’S THE NEXT STEP TO BE TAKEN IN THIS STRUGGLE?]
Despite the Governor’s opposition to the unionization of GSRs, the contract our graduate student union negotiates for GSIs impacts the lives of students working in STEM fields directly. Although STEM researchers are often perceived to be only GSRs, many spend some time at the UC as GSIs (TAing, grading…). While a GSI, students are directly covered by the graduate student union’s contract and are granted provisions such as:
- full tuition and fee coverage
- childcare reimbursements of $1350/semester for kids up to 12 years old
- access to lactation facilities for working nursing mothers
- participation in university retirement plans
- the right to representation if one encounters sexual harassment, discrimination, or overwork
- healthcare without caps on services or prescriptions
Many students in both STEM and the humanities pursue GSR work during their time at the UCs and are not directly covered by the union’s contract. Nevertheless, the university frequently uses the provisions granted in the contract as a template to provide similar services to students not covered by it. In this way, the union’s contract indirectly shapes the benefits and working conditions for GSRs. The better the contract for GSIs, the better the working conditions for GSRs.