SYRACUSE, NY— Syracuse Graduate Employees United (SGEU) rallied on campus today outside of Hendricks Chapel to protest the GOP tax plan being discussed by Congress and to publically announce their graduate student unionization drive at Syracuse University. The GOP tax bill will have a devastating impact on graduate students at Syracuse University as well as graduate students and higher education throughout the country. Several speakers, including local activists and graduate student employees, discussed the ways in which the proposed tax bill will affect them and their colleagues in higher education and demanded that the Syracuse University administration publicly oppose this attempt at destroying higher education. Furthermore, the members of SGEU called on the administration at Syracuse University to commit to concrete contingency plans in case the Republican senate prevails in passing this harmful legislation.
“All the graduate students I’ve talked to are terrified about the proposed tax bill,” said Maria Carson, SGEU member, 6th year PhD Candidate in the Department of Religion, and Humanities Center Dissertation Fellow. “I feel that the administration needs to take a stronger stance on this tax bill, and offer some contingency plans for students who will be affected by the tax bill. It is possible that this tax bill would amount to a huge pay cut for all graduate employees, and it is really disheartening to see the university remain so relatively silent on this matter.”
This rally is a part of the national graduate student walkout, #gradtaxwalkout, to protest the GOP tax bill. Graduate workers at more than 50 colleges and universities are participated in the walkout; more information can be found about this national event at https://gradtaxwalkout.wixsite.com/walkout.
As well as protesting against this tax bill, the rally also officially announced the SGEU’s unionization drive. The group, SGEU, is comprised of several dedicated graduate students who want to see graduate student teaching assistants, research assistants, and fellows be unionized at SU.
SGEU has been working on this drive since the Spring of 2016. Many of the students in SGEU became interested in the prospect of unionization after receiving word of an alarming plan to move graduate student employees off the university’s employee health insurance plan. This health insurance plan was eventually dropped by the university due to mass outcry, 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.
"I support a union because the work TAs, GAs, and RAs do is necessary for the university to function,” said Laura Jaffee, SGEU member and 4th year PhD candidate in Cultural Foundations of Education. “We deserve to be compensated for that labor with dignified working conditions in the form of comprehensive and affordable healthcare, decent wages, accessible childcare, adequate mental health support, and other benefits to make graduate life viable, particularly for oppressed groups largely excluded from accessing graduate education. A union gives us collective bargaining power and enables us to democratically make decisions that improve our work lives. The power to have some say over the conditions of our work is a really basic acknowledgement of the value of the work we do."
Discussing why she supports the unionization drive at Syracuse, Vani Kannan a 4th year PhD Candidate in Composition and Cultural Rhetoric, said: "Guarding against unilateral top down decisions; building grad student power; broadly building labor power on campus towards solidarity with all workers. Because we are taught that this is a labor of love and that we are lucky to be here, which atomizes us, makes us not identify as workers, and makes us complicit in each other’s exploitation. Because organized labor is crucial for fighting neoliberalism and the corporatization of education."
SGEU is now affiliated with Service Employees International Union (SEIU) Local 200United. SEIU Local 200United already has a strong presence on the Syracuse University campus, currently the union for the university’s building, ground, dining, and library employees. “The GOP tax plan is a transparent attack on the working people and its provisions that would tax tuition waivers and remitted tuition would essentially bankrupt graduate employees and put a higher education out of reach for working class students,” said Scott Phillipson, President of SEIU Local 200United. “We are excited to stand in solidarity with Syracuse Graduate Employees United as they launch their organizing drive with our union and join them in calling on Chancellor Syverud develop a contingency plan that protects Syracuse University employees if this tax plan is passed by Congress.”
For more information on Graduate Employees United and to find out how you can get involved in their organizing efforts, visit the organization’s FB page at https://www.facebook.com/syracuseGEU.
Syracuse Graduate Employees United is affiliated with SEIU Local 200United, organizing to unite over 1,200 graduate assistants, teaching assistants, research assistant, and graduate fellows at Syracuse University. Over 6,000 SEIU Local 200United members work at 25 colleges and universities across Upstate New York and Vermont as contingent faculty, janitors, groundskeepers, skilled trades, clerical, and dining service workers, including approximately 900 members at Syracuse University.
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The Daily Orange, The Socialist Worker, and see video on LocalSyr.com.