Last Thursday, the GAU negotiating team sat down at the table for the first time to begin collectively bargaining our next contract.
This time we introduced ourselves, established ground rules for bargaining sessions, and set a schedule for upcoming meetings. After our opening statement (see below), we walked through our proposed contract changes and had the chance to explain our primary concerns and interests.
Our dedicated members have worked hard over the last three years to explore and determine what changes to our contract will best improve the working conditions of all Graduate Assistants through meetings, surveys, data collection, and most importantly conversations with so many of you. Thank you for all the contributions!
We look forward to working with all of you to fight for the best possible contract for all Graduate Assistants at URI!
It’s been a remarkable three years since we last came to this table together. Some of our faces are new, some of us have known and worked with each other for many years. Meanwhile, URI has continued to grow and thrive. We are about to have a new research vessel over at Bay Campus. The university receives around 85 million dollars in competitive grants on average each year by URI researchers. The 150 million dollar engineering building is almost done and 68 million dollars in federal research grants come into the university on average each year.
All of this success did not happen in a vacuum. Graduate Assistants have played and will continue to play an integral role in putting these resources to work for the betterment of URI and Rhode Island overall.
Despite our significant contributions to the success of URI, Grad assistants’ stipends still lag behind the cost of living. By any estimate, many grads are stretched to the breaking point to meet our basic needs. Our first paycheck every year is often completely consumed by student fees. An emergency such as auto-repair, illness, or even common dental procedures puts additional pressures on the already strained finances of a typical graduate assistant here at URI.
Our members frequently deal with the additional strain of not knowing what their responsibilities are. The lack of clarity of job descriptions and expectations can itself be anxiety-inducing, but it also allows supervisors, often unwittingly, to bend the rules and overwork assistants.
Whether we are monitoring experiments in labs, instructing undergraduates, providing departmental support, keeping the peace in residence halls, or conducting research in the middle (or on the bottom) of the ocean, our work is an integral part of this university. Our University’s success as an institution is due in no small part to our energy and commitment.
Last night, we had a big meeting with our members to kick off negotiations and engage them directly in the negotiating process, and man did they have a lot they wanted us to say to all of you.”
We read direct quotes during the session. Here is a paraphrased summary of our member’s personal messages:
We are workers helping URI as an institution, we deserve respect and a reasonable quality of living
My stipend is below cost of living and insufficient to cover my basic needs
I need a raise to feed myself and my family
Student fees come directly from my paycheck at a critical time and make starting an assistantship difficult
Financial challenges exacerbate disparities between diverse populations and contribute to discrimination at our institution
Supervisors need to know the appropriate roles and capacity of the assistantships they oversee, and we would like to review their performance anonymously
I NEED VISION
I didn’t know I had a job until after it started
I don’t understand my responsibilities, where my office is, or most of what I need to know to start my assistantship
I NEED DENTAL!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!
“On each of these points, our peer institutions offer significantly stronger benefits and wages to their graduate assistants. We believe the University strives to uphold its academic integrity, and takes its responsibility as a public institution to improve the common good seriously. To that end, graduate assistants at URI must be offered genuinely competitive compensation and benefits that meet their basic needs, or else they can go right up the way to our peer institutions and take their skills and expertise with them. We deserve the same quality of life as other academic professionals at any of the myriad institutions that offer their assistants better, more competitive compensation.
We are happy to be here with you today, and are looking forward to productive, collaborative negotiations over the coming weeks and months.”