Why am I a member of TUGSA?

[In an effort to create more transparency between the Executive Board and the union members, the co-presidents will author an article once a month for the remainder of the academic year. This platform enables them to speak directly about events occurring to the union as a whole and issues within the city/country that impact graduate students on a larger level. At times articles may be of a more personal nature in an effort to highlight the impact of unions on their members and the community that surrounds them. This first article contains a more personal story to ease into what our union means for one of our co-presidents.]

In my prior life as desk jockey I spent the majority of my days working directly with union members. My employment did not involving teaching, politics, pipe-fitting, or merchant marine; no, I worked for an aerospace company where our entire fabrication and build teams were unionized technicians. I spent more time working with members of the union than my project managers or even our clients. By the time I left the company a large majority of my friends were members of the union. Spending weeks away from home on assignment and hours stuck in airports allowed for natural conversations between us where I learned of the union’s positive impact on my friends and the indirect benefits I received as their co-worker. A tinge of jealously arose when I realized they were more secure in their job than I was given the nature of my at-will contract.

Unions occupy a prominent place in the labor history of the United States and still drive very large sectors of our economy. Everything moves around this country because of unions; they are ubiquitous. That car you drive? Union. The train you take? Union. The mail you received? Union. That connection to the Internet? Union. That NASA research project? Union. Your college professor? Union. Even you, hopefully, are in a union.

Personally, I did not realize the strength of unions until I entered the workforce, but once felt it cannot be ignored. One of the indirect benefits in my job from the technician’s union ensured that travelling on a holiday or a weekend rarely occurred. The union contract charges extra for holiday and weekend travel which meant that travel occurred only during the week for everyone. My preference of travel did not factor into any of my bosses’ decisions, but the desires of the union could not be ignored. Even when on travel for work I, as a non-union exempt worker, found myself enjoying Memorial Day and the Fourth of July as true holidays due to the rules of the union contract governing my co-workers. The presence of a strong union improved everyone’s lives; as it ensured its members were treated decently, everyone benefited alongside them.

As Co-President of TUGSA, I care deeply about how the university treats all graduate students. However, without active graduate student support the university does not fully respect our wishes when contracts are negotiated or issues arise during the year. When less than half of potential members volunteer to pay dues, the university interprets this apathy, as the union not being the true voice of the graduate student population. The university’s perception must improve via increased membership if anyone wants to receive proper cost-of-living increases in wages, improvements to healthcare, or more understanding about workload balancing.

TUGSA’s effort to enroll all eligible graduate students into the union stems from the understanding that everyone (graduate students, adjunct professors, undergraduate students, and professors) will benefit from a stronger, more active graduate student union. All too often members of the union encounter disapproval from those not in the union. I am open to understanding everyone’s positon on TUGSA, but please remember, for instance, that before the union was founded in 2002 the healthcare subsidy was four hundred dollars a year. Now everyone receives over five hundred dollars a month for health insurance which is better, but not where we want to be and certainly not where we need to be in terms of caring for ourselves and our families.

TUGSA is not perfect. It must adapt to the needs of its members. The executive board and I will gladly act on taking up any cause seen fit by our members to improve our lives. You may only be in the union briefly or you may vacillate each semester between grants and TAships. No matter your position each semester, I assure you that the quality of your life will be tied to that of the union’s presence on campus. The union is the only voice the university will hear when it comes to discussing the work we as graduate students, as educators, and as mentors put forward each semester. Your advisor will ensure you graduate. TUGSA will ensure you can live.

Christian Ward
TUGSA Co-President
College of Engineering

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