Stony Brook GSEU Living Wage Campagaign Organizers at the “Scare-in for a Living Wage” on October 31, 2022
Stony Brook Worker Editorial
All graduate students who are paid employees as TAs, GAs, or RAs at Stony Brook are represented by the Graduate Student Employees Union (GSEU) and Research Assistants Union (RAU). GSEU and RAU collectively bargain for and negotiate with New York State and the Research Foundation (respectively), over our labor contracts that govern our employment here at Stony Brook University. This contract determines our pay, benefits, and working conditions. GSEU safeguards our rights as workers, and it ensures that our employers cannot take advantage of, harass, overwork, discriminate against, or unfairly dismiss us. GSEU is also the reason that we have benefits like health, dental, and vision insurance as part of our employment package.
Thanks to our GSEU organizing, we are currently benefitting from the Fee Scholarship, which we won in 2020. With this Fee Scholarship, all grad student employees in terminal degree programs no longer have to pay “broad-based fees” back to the university, which had been roughly 10-15% of our annual salaries. It is also thanks to GSEU that we receive a contractually guaranteed 2% raise every year. In the last year, GSEU’s Living Wage Campaign won an additional $2,500 pay raise, in addition to the aforementioned annual 2% raise. We will continue our Living Wage Campaign until grad student workers at SBU receive a fair stipend that is commensurate with the cost of living in this region.
The current contract between GSEU and New York State expires in June 2023. To get the best possible results for all grad student workers in our next contract negotiations, it is essential that all graduate workers join their respective union, either GSEU for all TAs and GAs, or the RAU for all RAs. Higher union membership rates here at SBU means our position in these contract negotiations will be stronger. Put simply, if you want better pay, better benefits, and better working conditions, join our union and take an active role in organizing especially in the upcoming months, for instance by encouraging non-member grad workers to join the union.
There are many reasons why joining our union is imperative for a better workplace in terms of our pay, benefits, protections, now more so than ever. As we approach contract negotiations, it is imperative to remind ourselves that none of the wins mentioned above would have been possible without the strong membership and organizing activity of grad workers. As a union, we are not an entity that provides services from above, but an organization made up of all of all of us as workers who collectively attain pay, rights, protections and benefits. Contract negotiations are a significant strategic opportunity to determine our working conditions as organized workers. In these negotiations, we have the opportunity to increase our pay, safeguard our previous wins, and obtain new benefits. The scope of our success in these negotiations will be determined by the level of organizing that we put in.
These negotiations are a power struggle between us as organized workers and SUNY management. In this struggle, we have many different strategic avenues and tactics of putting pressure on SUNY. But one of the most important factors that will determine our power is our membership rate. The state has the data on how many grad workers support the union as members, and this illustrates the level of organization in our workplace. This data also determines the degree of leverage we will hold at the negotiating table. As our membership increases, we increase the possibility of earning and winning more concessions.
In the upcoming months, we will send a contract negotiation survey, asking members to communicate their priorities and demands for the negotiation process. This survey will allow us to gather strong empirical data to determine our priorities in these negotiations and to learn about what grad workers are concerned about. In order to make the most of this, we advise everyone to familiarize themselves with our current contract. You can find it on our website: https://www.cwa1104gseu.com/understanding-your-contract.
At the same time, we are currently forming contract bargaining teams, which will be an active part of the negotiation process. If you are interested, or if you are not happy about certain aspects of the workplace or the actions of the union, this is your chance to take an active part in making your voice count! Email us at email@example.com if you would like to join our contract bargaining teams.
After we have determined the priorities of our membership, we will send a request to bargain to the state when our contract expires. However, there is a likelihood that when the contract expires we will not immediately begin the bargaining process. Bargaining takes place between GSEU, the Office of Employees Relations (OER) and SUNY. Currently, the Governor’s Office of Employee Relations (GOER) is negotiating contracts with United University Professions (UUP), which is the SUNY Faculty and Staff Union. Later on, new contract negotiations will also take place with the CUNY Professional Staff Congress (PSC). Since the UUP contract expired at the beginning of the 2022 fall semester and negotiations are still underway, it is likely that our negotiations might be delayed.
This delay is not an immediate cause for alarm. Even when the negotiations do not take place immediately, our previous contract and benefits will remain in place for the time being, with the exception of fund monies. This continuation of contractual provisions was part of the Triborough Amendment. While fund monies might be put on hold in the future, we have already secured fund monies for SEVIS reimbursement and the Professional Development Fund (PDF) for next year. In the past, delays like this caused a sense of rush to quickly ratify a contract, but we do not believe that a rushed process has been beneficial for our unions to secure strong contracts. This time, we believe that patience will pay off, and we are aiming for a long contract negotiation campaign from which we can earn significant wins. Therefore, we advise all our members to be prepared for an extended negotiation period wherein we will keep applying pressure to earn a dignified contract!
If you are employed and paid as a TA or GA, please become a GSEU member through this link: https://www.cwa1104gseu.com/become-gseu-member.
If you are employed and paid as an RA, you are required as part of your employment to become a member of your union: https://cwaraunion.org/become-rau-member.
The more grad workers become union members, the better our chances as grad workers to protect the benefits we have and to push for more! So, join your union today!