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The Student News Site of Stony Brook University

The Statesman

The Student News Site of Stony Brook University

The Statesman


    Why We Unionized

    The purpose of this article is to describe the recent activities of graduate students at Stony Brook University and to explain how and why we formed a union, from my own perspective.

    There are three main points:

    (1) I love Stony Brook University. It has assisted in turning me from a student into a professional.

    (2) I believe that this union will benefit the school and its students.

    (3) Graduate students should be allowed to organize their union peacefully without interference as they voted to do so on Dec. 5, 2008.

    Stony Brook University conducts a tremendous amount of research in engineering, chemical, physical and life sciences. The majority of this research is enthusiastically conducted by graduate students, who are termed Research Assistants (RA’s). These RA’s come from all over the globe to attend graduate school here, learn from Stony Brook’s internationally renowned professors, and to conduct their cutting edge research in pursuit of a Ph.D. These same RA’s are technically employed by the Research Foundation, a private commercial non-profit 501(c)(3) corporation. This non-profit tax designation gives the Research Foundation the best of both worlds: a non-profit company with no taxable income and a private commerical employer who has no official obligation to make any of their financial data accesible to the public.

    Research Assistants decided to form a union when they realized that Teaching Assistants (TA’s) were achieving some better benefits through having a negotiated contract with the Research Foundation. This contract included a waiver of their technology and transportation fees, as well as a special downstate allocation fund to adjust for the very high cost of living on Long Island. In total, these benefits saved TA’s nearly $500 per semester, or $1000 a year. For grad students living on their own, this was a significant asset.

    Research Assistants hope to acheive these fee waivers and other benefits in the future when negotiating with the Research Foundation. This union will become a wing of CWA 1104, the Communication Workers of America who already represents all 4,600 TA’s across NY State.

    The University continues to perform research at the highest level competing with ivy league universities nationwide attracting some of the best and brightest students and faculty. It’s collaboration with Cold Spring Harbor Laboratory and Brookhaven National Laboratories place Stony Brook in the crossroads between two world-class institutions. When I envision Stony Brook, I see limitless intellectual potential, with room for further growth and improvements in many sectors. The university’s goal should be to bring in the most productive and experienced students, as we are contributing to the backbone of this college. Raising the living conditions for RA’s will make them happier, more productive, committed, and effective in their job performance. It will also serve to raise the caliber for future classes and increase the university’s reputation.

    In summary, the current research assistants have participated in a fair and democratic election overseen by the National Labor Relations Board. We voted yes, we do want a union. The RA Union will begin organizing immediately and is looking for interested graduate students from all departments to begin actively participating. There is a lot of work left for us to do moving ahead. The union will be able to negotiate fee waivers, and even a standardized raise and health benefits in the years to come. It is my belief that if acheived, these things will lead to more job satisfaction, higher retention, and importantly even more grants coming in due to our increased productivity. I believe this win is a victory for everyone.

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