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UConn Students Lead the Way on Collective Action

photo courtesy Joedell Russo

From the classroom to the basketball court, the University of Connecticut community is widely embracing the concept of collective action. The school that set the standard for basketball excellence this year by winning both the men's and the women's national championships is making news as the college's students are stepping up and acting collectively to improve their lives."

Graduate employees at the university won a victory last week as the state Board of Labor Relations verified that more than half of the graduate students who work as teaching or research assistants had signed cards authorizing the Graduate Employee Union (UAW) to represent them. UConn is the first school in the state where grad assistants have successfully unionized and, with more than 2,100 assistants, the unit becomes the largest at the college, outpacing the 1,700 members of the faculty union and 1,600 members of the staff union. The graduate employees say that the college has stayed neutral in the process and didn't oppose the union as other colleges have. Among the top concerns the new union members plan to address with college officials are the recent increases in health insurance co-payments and student fees.

Madelynn von Baeyer, a member of the organizing committee, says: "I think it's wonderful that UConn came out and recognized our right to collectively bargain. Being recognized, we're hopeful to enter a new mature relationship with the university that will improve not only (the) experience as a graduate employee, but will benefit the university by bringing in top-quality graduate employees for future years."

The UConn graduate assistants are the latest group to win a union voice. More than 1.200 NYU graduate employees voted to join the Graduate Student Organizing Committee/UAW (GSOC/UAW) and Scientists and Engineers Together/UAW (SET/UAW) in December and grad assistants on several other campuses seeking union representation.  

In related news at UConn, basketball player Shabazz Napier made headlines after his team won the championship last month when he told reporters that because of NCAA limitations on what players can do, he often goes to bed hungry at night. While the rule had been in the works prior to Napier's comments, the college athletics governing body approved changes that will allow student athletes to have unlimited meals and snacks. The rule should clear up a muddled environment where a school like Oklahoma, rather than run afoul of the NCAA, self-reported that three players ate too much pasta at a graduation banquet and were required to each donate $3.83 to charity to make sure they weren't accused of taking illegal gifts. The new rule should prevent future such misunderstandings and guarantee that student athletes have enough food to eat.

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