Graduate student workers at the University of Missouri today filled the main-floor lobby of the administration building on the Columbia campus to protest the university’s denial of their bid to be classified as employees.
The Coalition of Graduate Workers, a group of graduate workers seeking collective bargaining rights, says the University of Missouri System has declined to recognize them as employees “because they simply don’t want us to form a graduate employee union,” said Connor Lewis, coalition co-chair.
Graduate students called Wednesday’s 8-hour gathering in the Jesse Hall lobby a “Work-in.” They held classes, office hours and did whatever work they’d scheduled for the day, there in the lobby.
“The work of graduate employees tends to happen out of the public eye,” said coalition co-chair Eric Scott. “Today, we are bringing our labor out into the open.”
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MU graudate students have been moving toward forming a graduate student workers’ union since before the fall semester started, when graduate students protested against the university cutting their health insurance subsidies and some tuition waivers.
Those decisions have since been reversed but were among the issues at the heart of student protests, including those related to race, that led to the resignation of the system president and the MU chancellor in November. Graduate student assistants have continued, though to complain that their pay was too low.
In his January state of the university address, interim chancellor Hank Foley announced that MU would address graduate students’ pay raise demand by increasing the minimum stipend over the next two school years, effective July 1.
Then two weeks ago, on Feb. 10, the System Vice President for Human Resources, Kelley Stuck, notified graduate workers that the system would not recognize them as university employees without legal action.
“We believe that the university needs clarity on the graduate students’ legal right to organize, as there is no legal precedent or clarity in current Missouri law to make that determination,” Interim System President Mike Middleton said in a statement on that same day.
It also said that MU administrators were working with graduate assistants to address such concerns as workload, and support structures for graduate students. And they said that inaddition to pay increases the university is also working on providing affordable graduate student housing and childcare.
When contacted on Wednesday for a comment MU officials directed The Star to the statement the system had put out two weeks ago.
“We believe that the best approach is for the graduate students and our leadership to continue to engage in direct, ongoing communication to seek and achieve collaborative solutions to relevant issues,” Foley said in the statement.
“We are going to continue trying to organize,” Lewis said. “We are going to take a vote to form a union regardless of whether the university agrees to participate in the process or not.”
He said the coalition’s plan is to hold a graduate student election for all 2,700 on the Columbia campus before the end of this spring’s semester.