Graduate student workers vote to ratify first contract with University

by CHRISTINA CHKARBOUL, BENJAMIN GAMSON & JONATHAN PARK (now); TOMOKI CHIEN (earlier this year)
Last updated:
(Emma Silverstein / Daily Trojan)
📌 PINNED | December 7, 2023 1:41 p.m.

LATEST: A majority of graduate student workers voted to ratify their first contract with the University, their union announced Thursday morning.

The vote took place between Monday and Wednesday, and 1,874 (81.4%) voted in favor while 429 opposed.

The Graduate Student Worker Organizing Committee struck the contract with USC Nov. 26 — an 11th-hour deal reached just over a day before the union was set to go on strike.

— Benjamin Gamson

November 28, 2023 12:00 a.m.

Graduate student workers were spared a strike as their union and the University struck a last-minute deal Sunday evening.

The agreement comes after seven months of negotiation. The University was under pressure to finalize a deal with a Nov. 28 strike date if a deal had not been reached.

Andrew McConnell Stott, vice provost for academic programs and dean of the Graduate School, said the Sunday meeting was a culmination of good faith bargaining from the University that put the finishing touches on the agreement.

“I knew for a fact that the USC team was coming to the meetings highly motivated to bring this to a conclusion and resolve the contract,” Stott said. “I think this has been a respectful, professional and productive process throughout. I’m glad we were able to get it done.”

The deal addresses many contentious issues between the two parties, including wages and the nondiscrimination clause, which remained outstanding going into Sunday’s negotiations.

Full article

— Benjamin Gamson

November 27, 2023

Q&A with assistant news editor Benjamin Gamson

These are based on questions received on our Instagram. Follow us: @dailytrojan
Questions have been edited for syntax and clarity.

Q: Is the agreement what the graduate student workers wanted, or are they meeting halfway with USC?

It’s a bit more complicated than to say they’re meeting halfway. GSWs had a set of goals that they wanted to achieve and this tentative agreement fulfills those objectives on wages, nondiscrimination, union security, and other workplace protections. But it also isn’t fully what they had hoped for.

In this tentative agreement, the union was able to secure a starting salary for all graduate student workers of $40,000, which is a 12% base pay raise, followed by 3% raises each year for the duration of the contract. In a proposal yesterday from the union they were asking for a 14.8% initial raise, equivalent to $40,984, followed by subsequent raises of 5.5%. GSWs will receive a $400 wage supplement this year. This is significantly lower than they were initially asking for, even in a proposal at bargaining just yesterday which requested a $2,000 dollar wage supplement.

Q: Does this tentative agreement apply to all USC graduate student workers?

The benefits in the deal apply to all graduate student workers at USC, including those that are not members of the union.

Q: How and when did USC’s bargaining attitude change?

USC has held throughout the negotiations that they have been bargaining in good faith. Going into negotiations on Sunday, both sides had agreed to 91% of issues. Two of the three most contentious issues were agreed to yesterday, being wages and the nondiscrimination article. Andrew McConnell Stott, vice provost for academic programs and dean of the Graduate School, told student media in a presser today that USC was “highly motivated” to finish this contract.

November 13, 2023 2:45 p.m., updated Nov. 14 8:03 p.m.

USC will have until Nov. 28 to present an offer to graduate student workers before they go on strike, their union announced Monday.

The union, the Graduate Student Worker Organizing Committee, wrote that it will wait until that date for the University to “come to the table with fair offers and stop committing unfair labor practices.”

“Up until then, admin has the power to agree to a fair contract and keep @USC running,” the union wrote.

  • Eleven Los Angeles City Council members and L.A. City Controller Kenneth Mejia signed a letter in support of USC’s graduate student workers Tuesday.
  • The strike deadline announcement came during a day of bargaining Monday, during which the University and graduate student workers went back and forth on multiple proposals — including options for a highly contentious economic package.

— Benjamin Gamson & Jonathan Park

November 14, 2023 7:46 p.m.

Eleven Los Angeles City Council members and L.A. City Controller Kenneth Mejia signed a letter in support of USC’s graduate student workers Tuesday.

“We hope that, over the course of contract negotiations, you will be able to reach a fair agreement on union security, as well as arbitrable protections from harassment and discrimination,” read the letter, addressed to Provost Andrew Guzman.

Councilmember Curren Price, who represents USC’s district, also sent a letter of support earlier this month; Lola Smallwood-Cuevas, who represents USC’s district in the California State Senate, and L.A. City Council President Paul Krekorian sent their own letters in late October.

— Benjamin Gamson

November 14, 2023 12:01 a.m.

The strike deadline announcement came during a day of bargaining Monday, during which the University and graduate student workers went back and forth on multiple proposals — including options for a highly contentious economic package.

The wage package USC offered the union Monday gave GSWs $37,000 for the next academic year, raising by 3% for each of the following two years.

GSWOC countered, requesting a $4,000 wage-supplement before the end of the current academic year. Per its proposal, minimum pay would be raised to $43,000 during the next academic year and wages would be raised further by 7% in both of the following two years.

USC responded with its previous proposal, except for one new clause on timely pay, saying the University “will make best efforts” to pay graduate student workers monthly.

“USC barely made any movement today and so our position is that USC could give us a fair contract tomorrow, but they are holding out in this key area,” said Jackie Johnson, a member of the bargaining team and fifth-year doctoral candidate studying cinema and media studies.

Despite disagreements on wages, the University and GSWs reached tentative agreements on three proposals Monday, including parking permits and sick leave. These developments bring the number of agreements between the University and GSWs to 24 out of 33 issues, or 73%.

Full article

— Benjamin Gamson

November 9, 2023 11:40 a.m.

Graduate student workers are holding a “last chance picket” today at four locations across University Park Campus and Health Sciences Campus.

Amid negotiations between their union and USC, the GSWs aim to pressure the University to agree to a series of demands about wages, non-discrimination clauses and the creation of a union shop.

The pickets are intended to show the University administration that GSWs are willing to go on strike if an agreement isn’t reached, according to a press release from the GSWs’ union, the Graduate Student Worker Organizing Committee.

Three UPC pickets will take place from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m., and the HSC picket is scheduled from noon to 2 p.m. GSWs overwhelmingly voted to authorize a strike in late October, when 95% of those who voted authorized the bargaining team to call a strike whenever it sees fit.

— Christina Chkarboul & Benjamin Gamson

February 17, 2023 9:03 p.m.

The union wins the election, NLRB officials say.

USC graduate student workers secured a milestone victory Friday, winning the right to unionize and engage in collective bargaining with the University. A decisive 93% of the 1,721 ballots cast were in favor of unionization.

The union, formally known as the Graduate Student Worker Organizing Committee, joins the United Auto Workers union which already represents academic workers from the likes of the University of California and Harvard University.

“This was a pretty big victory — a very clear mandate in favor of the union,” said Yoni Hirshberg, a teaching assistant and one of the union’s organizers. “We will meet USC as equals at the bargaining table.”

Both the union and University have five days to file objections to the election with the National Labor Relations Board. If neither files, the board will certify the results and the University must begin bargaining in good faith with the union.

All teaching assistants, assistant lecturers, research assistants, students funded through training grants and fellows in STEM disciplines at USC are eligible to join the union.

“USC fully supports our graduate students and respects their decision to be represented by a union,” the University wrote in a statement to the Daily Trojan Friday. “We recognize the important role they play at the university and are proud that we provide stipends and benefits for our graduate students that already are very competitive with those of our peers … We are committed to bargaining in good faith to reach a fair contract.”

— Tomoki Chien

February 15, 2023 4:12 p.m.

The voting period has begun.

Voting began Wednesday to decide the fate of a prospective union of USC graduate student workers, formally called the Graduate Student Workers Organizing Committee. The two-day election will close Thursday at 7 p.m., decided by a simple majority vote of union-eligible workers.

A National Labor Relations Board official said that, barring unforeseen circumstances, the board will count the votes on Friday and should have a rough idea of the result that day — which seems likely to be a “yes” on unionization given that roughly 60% of 3,400 workers signed union authorization cards in December.

“It’s great to get graduate stipends and things like that, and I’m really grateful,” said Marina Massidda, a graduate student studying cinema and media who voted in favor of unionization. “But [USC] pitches it as something you can live on when really it’s not, increasingly so at a rapid pace; it’s just not in step with inflation and rent costs.”

The GSWOC, seeking to join the United Auto Workers union, represents teaching assistants, assistant lecturers, research assistants, students funded through training grants and fellows in STEM disciplines.

Voting commenced simultaneously at Wallis Annenberg Hall on the University Park Campus, the Clinical Services Center on the Health Sciences Campus and Drexler Auditorium at the Buck Institute.

“USC values its good relations with the unions already representing some USC employees, including our food service workers,” wrote Andrew Stott, vice provost for academic programs and dean of the Graduate School, in a January memo. “But USC does not believe that representation by the United Auto Workers is in the best interest of our graduate students.”

— Tomoki Chien

February 1, 2023 9:29 p.m.

NLRB released a notice Wednesday setting into stone the GWSOC election.

The fate of a prospective union of USC graduate student workers will hinge on a Feb. 15-16 election, the National Labor Relations Board confirmed in a notice Wednesday. A simple majority vote of union-eligible workers will decide the outcome.

Negotiations last month between USC and the coalition — formally named the Graduate Student Workers Organizing Committee — defined union-eligible workers as all teaching assistants, assistant lecturers, research assistants, students funded through training grants and fellows in STEM disciplines.

“We are united in a belief that by banding together we can have greater support and better lives,” the GSWOC wrote in a Monday press release. “With a union, we can address problems like earning less than a living wage, insufficient healthcare benefits, discrimination, bullying and harassment, and a lack of legal and structural support for international workers.”

Full article

— Tomoki Chien

January 19, 2023 4:35 p.m.

A union election date has tentatively been set for Feb. 15-16.

USC and a prospective union of graduate student workers tentatively set the dates of a union election for Feb. 15 and 16. The NLRB still needs to draft the formal agreement, which will require both parties’ signatures.

The agreement came after a second day of hearings with the labor board, which defined which workers are eligible to join the union.

Next month’s election will hinge on a simple majority vote of union-eligible workers. The group seems likely to vote in favor of unionization given that roughly 60% of 3,400 workers signed union authorization cards to trigger the hearing in December.

Tomoki Chien

January 14, 2023 12:00 a.m.

USC graduate student workers are one step closer to unionizing.

A prospective union of USC graduate student workers will likely hold a hearing with the National Labor Relations Board starting Wednesday, a union representative wrote in a statement to the Daily Trojan Friday.

The hearing — which will determine workers’ union eligibility — would bring the coalition one step closer to official union certification and allow the workers to strike in the future.

The University is expected to argue at the hearing that graduate student workers funded through fellowships are not employees and therefore not union-eligible, wrote Megan Cassingham, a spokesperson for the Graduate Student Worker Organizing Committee. Spokespersons for USC were not immediately able to confirm Cassingham’s assertion or the scheduled date for the hearing.

After the hearing, the NLRB will set the date of an election decided by a simple majority of union-eligible workers who are likely to vote in favor of unionization, given that roughly 60% of 3,400 workers signed union authorization cards to trigger the hearing in December.

Full article

Tomoki Chien

December 16, 2022 12:00 a.m.

USC graduate student workers have filed for union election.

A broad coalition of USC graduate student workers filed for a union election Wednesday, a move that could grant the workers the power of collective bargaining — and the strike — in labor negotiations with the University.

Any strike would be far out, if one happens at all. The prospective union of graduate students employed as teaching assistants, research assistants and assistant lecturers from nearly every academic department will likely go through an early January hearing with the National Labor Relations Board, the federal agency that protects the rights of private-sector employees.

The hearing would confirm which workers are eligible to join the union, a point that the University could contest; if USC agrees with the coalition’s definition of an eligible member, the hearing would not be necessary.

Full article

Tomoki Chien

ADVERTISEMENTS

Looking to advertise with us? Visit dailytrojan.com/ads.
© University of Southern California/Daily Trojan. All rights reserved.