A big topic at the University of Hawaiʻi at Mānoa is whether or not graduate students who hold research or teaching positions should be able to to unionize and collectively bargain for wages and other benefits. Graduate student assistants should be allowed to unionize in order negotiate better wages, because of the amount of time and energy they put into their jobs.
The counterpoint that graduate assistants or graduate student employees are students and their position is often related to their academic field shouldn’t disqualify them for receiving benefits and pay appropriate for what they do. Graduate students are no different from regular employees, even if their job is closely tied to their academics.
Although, graduate positions are often temporary and graduate students should not see it as a permanent job with career advancement, the duties graduate students perform go beyond the amount they get paid, as they play an important role in doing research for the professors that they assist.
Wages compared to cost of living
Unless a graduate student has financial aid that can help cover the cost of tuition, most graduate students are not in the best financial state. Allowing the graduate students to unionize mean they can request better wages. Graduates will have a unified voice to voice their concerns.
In a testimony by Jonathan Dial, President of the Graduate Student Organization, to the House hearing on House Bill 1529: “The current base pay ($17,500/year) is just fifty-one percent of the cost of living in Honolulu for graduate students, declared by the University to be nearly $34,000/year in 2012.”
In a separate testimony given attorney Lance Collins to the House, Collins spoke about how “graduate students have no protection from arbitrary and capricious employment decisions” yet the work that graduates do is similar to the work that UH employees perform, such as administrative, research, program support and lecturing.
Graduate students should be allowed to unionize in order to protect their rights as employees as well. Allowing grad students to unionize can strengthen the relationship between the school and the students, since both parties will be able to discuss issues and reach a solution quickly.
Benefits of unionization
There are many reasons as to why graduate students should unionize. It allows the voice of graduate student employees to be heard. As a group, they can better respond to unfair treatment as well as health, wage, benefits, and safety concerns at work. Graduates are students but as employees, they also put in as much dedication and hard work into their jobs just like any other employee at UH. Unionizing will provide them with the benefits they deserve.