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What a union is

Dear Graduate Center Colleagues –

This semester the Graduate Center wrote checks to approximately a dozen graduate employees in the Math department for more than $1,000 each. This outcome was the product of several years of chapter building, and the hard work of many individuals.

At least once in the past, GC management has reduced the stipend portion of the graduate employee five-year funding packages in response to contractually negotiated raises and/or step increases – in effect recouping the money. To prevent this in the last contract round, PSC chapter and central leadership met with then-President Chase Robinson, who proceeded to communicate to graduate employees that this practice would not continue.

Around the same time, Maya Harakawa set out to build a union steward program, one which Harry Blain has continued to build. Our ultimate goal is to have a union representative for every ten members, so that we truly have a structure that makes the union alive to everyone. Getting to this point takes hours of thankless work that both Maya and Harry have engaged with cheer and energy.

Now, where the rubber hits the road: Chris Natoli has been the union shop steward in the Math department almost since the inception of the program. This semester, he discovered that for two years, grad employees in the Math department had their fifth-year stipends decreased in precisely the amount of the contractually negotiated raises – the very practice that management had committed not to do several years earlier. Chris brought the issue to the chapter EC, and the chapter brought it to management; management acknowledged the error, and quickly issued checks, also changing the practice going forward.

I write this email precisely because the work that Maya, Harry and Chris did to produce this outcome – putting thousands of dollars back in the hands of graduate employees – is generally not visible and is not always exciting in the day to day. Events like the WAC fight last year that resulted in a reduction in workload for all 5thyear GCFs certainly put the chapter on the map. But this patient work of finding leaders and formalizing their leadership, of paying attention to the details and enforcing both the contract and the commitments of management are an essential part of making a union what it is.

Long story short: reply to this email if you want to become a shop steward J

Solidarity & power,

Luke Elliott-Negri, PSC-GC Chapter Chair

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