From the Graduate Student Council: We need a union

April 3, 2023, 10:42 p.m.

On the question of whether Stanford’s graduate workers should unionize, the Graduate Student Council’s (GSC) answer is a resounding yes. We make this recommendation after careful consideration and out of a deep sense of responsibility as your elected leaders. 

Stanford’s graduate workers must unionize in order to resolve our pressing and worsening needs. Stanford controls not only our academic progress, but also our wages, rent and even food supply. Yet, our minimum assistantship salaries have failed to keep pace with skyrocketing inflation for the last three years, while the cost of on-campus housing continues to rise. Our health insurance does not cover basic needs, such as dental and vision care. All the while, we may be researching and teaching in highly variable work conditions, with some students expected to work upwards of 60 hours per week for their assistantships.  

We work second (or third) jobs beyond our academic responsibilities to cover the living costs in one of the most expensive areas in the United States. We forgo essential mental health, dental and vision care. We line up at a Second Harvest food pantry to get our groceries once a month — taking resources from our neighboring communities because Stanford, one of the wealthiest universities in the world, refuses to pay us a living wage. We wonder how we will ever pay for emergencies, should they arise, given the strain on the University’s emergency grant resources. Graduate students deserve better from Stanford, and we all know it.

Despite years of GSC efforts to raise alarms about this crisis, it simply is not enough to push Stanford’s leaders to support us. We collected our own data, and when that data was not considered “rigorous” enough to change the University’s approaches, we collaborated with Institutional Research and Decision Support to craft a survey that would produce the rigorous data the Stanford administration said they needed. Stanford’s leaders kept us from having a seat at the decision-making table, set our minimum assistantship salaries without taking into consideration the data they promised they would use, and, to add further insult, informed us of their decision nearly two days after announcing it to the rest of the University. We took a vote of no confidence — the first in the GSC’s history and the strongest symbol of broken trust available to us. When that was not enough to sway University leadership, we created a petition that again emphasized our demands, which 2,500+ Stanford students signed. Yet, we were rebuffed again and told by Provost Drell that “we [the University] are not in a position to move forward with the other initiatives.” Some of these “initiatives” do not even cost Stanford money, such as publicly reporting the data sources and calculations used to set our minimum assistantship salaries from 2018 forward — a basic ask for transparency that is a legal requirement at many of our public peer institutions.    

We exhausted every advocacy avenue, but it was not — and will never be — enough. 

Now, University leaders tell us that we should be happy with a 3-day, temporary return of the previously daily, permanent Shopping Express — a mere fraction of our initial asks and woefully insufficient to address our dire needs. In recent weeks, some individual departments and schools have taken admirable steps towards addressing this affordability crisis. The School of Medicine, School of Humanities & Sciences and Graduate School of Education decided to raise their own minimum assistantship salaries by 7% this year (above the University-set raise of 4.9%), and the Schools of Medicine and Humanities & Sciences disbursed one-time $1,000 stipends to their graduate workers. We are appreciative of these schools’ leaders for this allyship with their graduate students. However, relying on Herculean efforts from student leaders or the goodwill of individual schools is not a sustainable solution to ensure that our needs will be met in perpetuity or equitably across all graduate workers. Every year, a new GSC steps into office and is forced to start anew, building relationships and engaging in good faith advocacy, only to be told by University leaders that it is “too late to make changes” time and time again. 

What, then, is a sustainable solution? 

We need an organization that will endure beyond any student government’s tenure and has institutional memory of past negotiations with University leaders. We need an organization that does not rely on under-resourced, overstretched student labor and has the bandwidth to advocate for us consistently on multiple fronts (click here to learn more about Stanford’s union platform and here to learn more about union “wins” at our peer institutions). We need an organization that extends beyond Stanford and has the collective bargaining power to fight with and for us. 

We need a union. 

Stanford Graduate Workers Union will help Stanford become the institution that graduate students need and deserve. 

– The Graduate Student Council of 2022-2023

Jason Anderson is a fourth-year PhD student in Aeronautics and Astronautics. Jason serves as GSC Co-Chair and Engineering Representative, and this is his second term.

Emily Schell is a fifth-year PhD student in the School of Education studying Developmental and Psychological Sciences. She is the Co-Chair of the Graduate Student Council. 

Liz Park is a third-year PhD student in Chemistry. She serves as the School of Humanities & Sciences representative and secretary of the Graduate Student Council. 

Lawrence Berg is a fourth-year PhD student in Chemistry. He serves as the School of Humanities & Sciences representative of the Graduate Student Council and representative to the Faculty Senate. 

Tyler Hall is a fifth-year PhD student in Geological Sciences. He serves as the Doerr School of Sustainability representative of the Graduate Student Council. 

Guillem Megias Homar is a third-year PhD student in Aeronautics and Astronautics. He serves as at-large representative and as the Benefits and Affordability Co-chair of the Graduate Student Council.

Christie Chang is a third-year PhD student in Immunology. She serves as the School of Medicine representative and treasurer of the Graduate Student Council.

Kristen Jackson is a third-year PhD student in the School of Education studying Race, Inequality and Language in Education. She is also the President of the Black Graduate Student Association (BGSA).

Yiqing Ding is a fourth-year PhD student in the Mechanical Engineering department and he is interested in advocating for the wide interests of the international students and scholars community at Stanford.

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