Graduate students should unionize for better pay

ALEX BOGER Columnist

Last month, graduate students were given the right to form unions by the National Labor Relations Board. This has led to discussion about whether graduate students would actually benefit from unionization. 

Many graduate students leave their university with their master’s degree or Ph.D. feeling somewhat used. Graduate students are regularly paid poorly, expected to work long hours, produce literature that includes their major adviser’s name on it and go to conferences to represent the university rather than themselves. They do all this while taking classes and writing a thesis. 

Graduate students gaining equity is far overdue. Colleges, public and private, need to be held to the same standards as companies and held responsible for the people they employ. The charade of “20 hours a week” needs to go. It also needs to be recognized that many of a student’s accomplishments are being used and abused by their university. 

When you come to graduate school, the joke always abounds with faculty as well as lab mates that you only have to work “20 hours a week.” When I came to graduate school, what I found out was that graduate students owe their adviser 20 hours a week, but are also expected to work on their own research project or thesis for 20 hours a week and juggle two to three classes. 

As one can imagine, these conditions bring forth a general lack of sleep and social interaction, and it has left many graduate students wondering why they didn’t just go into the job field. They would be working less hours, the pay would be better and they would have options to protect them from unfair work practices. 

On the other side of the argument, people are saying that unionization would lead to less graduate teaching assistants due to professors’ fear of them striking. This is a common argument against unions in general.

The issue I have with this argument is that it works to protect the rights of a company, a non-human entity, all while ignoring the fact that labor unions are there to protect employees from unreasonable work practices. Labor unions are villainized by companies because they force them to spend money on their workers’ safety and pay their workers a living wage, which cuts into their bottom line.

Graduate students are the blood flowing through the veins of university research. 

Without graduate students, the university wouldn’t have a constant flow of research coming out. But without the university, we wouldn’t be able to get a degree. 

At SDSU, the average wage for graduate students is roughly between $10,000 and $16,000 per year. Also, graduate students aren’t technically supposed to get a second job unless specifically stated in their contracts that they can. So the money we make just isn’t enough.

We both have something to use in negotiations, so let’s actually negotiate and pay our graduate students a living wage.

Alex Boger is an agriculture & biosystems engineering graduate student at SDSU and can be reached at [email protected]