Stanford Graduate Workers Union launches campaign with over 2500 signed cards

April 4, 2023, 12:21 a.m.

Graduate student-workers rallied at White Plaza on Monday in support of the Stanford Graduate Workers Union (SGWU), which publicly launched its unionization campaign Monday morning.

SGWU organizers distributed “cards” — authorization forms that graduate student-workers can fill out to indicate their willingness to join the union — and T-shirts that read “STANFORD WORKS BECAUSE WE DO” at the rally.

The union has tallied over 2500 signed cards as of Tuesday morning, according to a Tweet by organizers.

Speakers at the rally included SGWU organizers, who represent graduate students from multiple fields of study. In their speeches, many brought up persistent issues that have been a point of frustration for graduate student advocacy, including lack of affordability and food insecurity.

Organizer Tania Flores, a fourth-year Ph.D. candidate in Iberian and Latin American Cultures, cited high rent-to-income ratios and the dual role of Stanford as graduate student-workers’ employer and landlord as some of the reasons why graduate work at Stanford is “increasingly less accessible,” especially for students from “systematically disenfranchised communities.”

Speakers also mentioned unaffordable healthcare, lackluster mental health services and workplace harassment as a few of the numerous issues motivating the unionization campaign.

Members of Stanford Graduate Workers Union assisting with demonstration efforts.
(Photo: BRAD YAC-DIAZ/The Stanford Daily)

Organizer Miikka Jaarte, a fourth-year Ph.D. candidate in philosophy, cited visa fees and fears of deportation as unique challenges that international students face. International students’ “ability to stay in the country” can depend on their relationship with their advisor, Jaarte said.

Jaarte added that international students’ rights to participate in union activity are protected by the same laws that protect U.S. students’ rights. “Stanford will not be able to pit us against each other,” he said.

“We are the union,” Jaarte said. “And we are going to have each others’ backs.”

Undergraduates Angel Manuel De Dios ’26 and Olivia Fu ’23 from Stanford Students for Workers’ Rights (SWR) also spoke at the rally, expressing solidarity with graduate students. De Dios said that a graduate student who was their teaching assistant in a math class inspired them to love math — a story that highlights the role of graduate students in the University’s teaching activities, as well as their impact on undergrads.

University spokesperson Stett Holbrook wrote in a statement to The Daily that Stanford “greatly [values] the many contributions our graduate students make to Stanford’s mission of teaching and research.”

According to Holbrook, the University “[works] hard” to “understand, appreciate and be responsive to” Stanford graduate students’ needs in order to “foster their well-being during their time at Stanford.”

Graduate student-workers at the rally told a different story.

Sarah Izabel, a first-year Ph.D. student in neuroscience and SGWU organizer, said that as a single mom, she has struggled to afford food and rent despite receiving grants from Stanford. “At the end of the quarter I end up going into debt,” she said, “and then have to make up at the beginning of the quarter.”

Izabel cited healthcare as another issue at the top of people’s minds. “A lot of people really need help with health expenses,” she said, adding that even with insurance, expenses like copays “can be a lot.”

Student wearing Stanford Graduate Workers Union t-shirt at demonstration.
“We exhausted every advocacy avenue,” writes the Graduate Student Council, “but it was not — and will never be — enough.” (Photo: BRAD YAC-DIAZ/The Stanford Daily)

Deniz Bingul, a third-year Ph.D. candidate in neuroscience and SGWU organizer, added: “It’s hard to deny students are really in crisis right now.”

The student-workers expressed their commitment to collective action.

“I’m here for all students,” Izabel said, adding, “I know I’m not the only one in this position.”

“We are out here,” Bingul said. “The numbers speak for themselves.”

Hannah Johnston, a third-year Ph.D. candidate in history and SGWU organizer, called the rally “really energizing.”

“We had a great turnout,” Johnston said. “And it was really exciting to see graduate workers from across the university come together and build our union.”

This article has been updated to reflect the Union’s most recent day-one card totals.

Anne Li '24 was a vol. 264 Equity Project editor. Contact her at anneli ‘at’ stanforddaily.com.

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