Before Fall Semester 2017
SGEU has been working toward unionizing since the Spring of 2016. Many of the student workers in SGEU became interested in unionizing after the university announced its plan to move graduate student employees off the university’s employee health insurance plan that spring. This health insurance plan was eventually dropped by the university due to mass outcry (although some grad students, including fellows, were successfully made ineligible for employee health insurance by administration), but several students saw the need for legal organization and representation in the future. Other students are interested in unionization because of a need for better pay, benefits, and control over hours worked vs. hours paid.
Since then, graduate students involved in organizing SGEU have been meeting for regular planning meetings to collect data, discuss strategy, coordinate outreach efforts, and develop communication systems prior to making our unionizing efforts public.
What We’ve Done So Far this Academic Year
—Decided on Present Union Name and Logo
After much discussion, we settled on the name Syracuse Graduate Employees United. It was important to us to include “employees” in the name to acknowledge the extent and importance of the work we do on campus. When administration tried to kick graduate students off of employee health insurance, they were essentially arguing that we are students and not employees who do work that is essential for the university to function.
—Affiliated with Service Employees International Union (SEIU), a National Workers’ Union
SGEU is now affiliated with Service Employees International Union (SEIU) Local200 United. SEIU Local 200United already has a strong presence on the Syracuse University campus. They represent roughly 900 workers from the university’s physical plant, dining, and library services.
—Had ~150 one-on-one Conversations with Graduate Student Employees
We have been going around campus to talk individually to graduate student employees to make them aware of unionizing efforts, gauge present levels of interest, and, critically, to hear grad student employees’ concerns so the union can best represent the interests of graduate students at SU. This is one of the most important types of labor folks involved in organizing can take on, as communication is essential for building a strong, democratic union that best represents the needs of all graduate student workers. Over the semester, we dramatically increased the amount of people we’ve spoken to to roughly 150. We’ve had one-on-one conversations with over 10% of graduate student workers, but the more people involved in this aspect of organizing, the faster we can form a union and start bargaining for better contracts!