What We Are Currently Fighting For
Demands for Grad Workers & Solidary Statement for Campus Workers
To sign this Letter please click on this link and fill out the Petition Form – you do not need to be affiliated with UNC to show your support. This form also includes an option to share testimonials about your experiences during this crisis.
We, the rank-and-file members of the Workers’ Union at UNC, are writing on behalf of the university workers and community members to express our deep concern regarding the support of graduate workers at UNC during the Coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic.
We know UNC has the resources. Therefore, we make the following demands:
- Raise the minimum income/stipends for graduate workers across the University. Some graduate workers make as little as $15,700 a year (whereas the living wage threshold in Orange County NC is around $26,000 a year).
- Guarantee that salaried and stipended workers, including graduate workers and post-doctoral researchers, will not lose pay because of extenuating circumstances created by the pandemic.
- Guarantee that all graduate workers who were awarded fellowship funds for Summer and/or 2020-2021 academic term receive in full their promised funding, no expectations.
- Offer all graduate students at least a one-semester extension on program progress milestones. This includes, but is not limited to, qualifying masters or doctoral exams, dissertation progress checkpoints and submission of the masters or dissertation, and in-state residency status.
- Guarantee an extra year of funding to all graduate students, as extensions to deadlines are meaningless without funding extensions. This has been called for by grads at peer institutions.
- Additionally, summer funding should be given to all current PhD candidates facing immediate structural gaps in their funding packages.
- Ensure that any students on F-1 and J-1 visas are able to maintain their visa status even if courses shift online, and support students who must leave the country if visa statuses change. Additionally, departments must actively aid in students seeking to maintain their visa status.
- All graduate students without funding packages who are paying out-of-pocket, who are ABD (all-but-dissertation/out-of-course work) or MFA student/Lab student who cannot access their materials in order to complete their requirements, should receive an immediate refund for the Spring 2020 term while maintaining their status in their programs.
- Ensure that advisors are prohibited from (implicitly or otherwise) putting pressure on graduate workers, or requiring them and other students do any work that exposes them to potential health risks, on or off campus, and in the case of a department member exhibiting symptoms allow for the swift shutdown of department lab operations.
- All graduate worker and student fees to be refunded for pro-rated amounts for months of March through May due to unavailability.
We deserve a living wage and necessary benefits!
At UNC, 78% of graduate workers are paid less than the living wage of $24,600 for a single adult in Orange County, NC. The University is our main employment option for the 5+ years that we work to earn our degree – that means while we must compete with each other to sell our labor, the University does not have to compete with anybody to buy it! The University uses this position of power to pay us far less than we can live off of. We are forced to take out loans, use consumer credit for routine living expenses, take on multiple roommates, and indefinitely postpone important life events because of costs.
Further, dental coverage is not available to Graduate workers who use UNC’s healthcare. UNC’s suggested individual dental plans are unaffordable and offer little coverage. Many are forced to either avoid dental care entirely or take out private loans to cover emergency medical services.
Similarly, dental coverage and health insurance for UNC’s campus workers are unreasonably expensive, offer little coverage, and often serve workers at inconveniently distant hospitals. Campus workers should have affordable coverage than can cover themselves and serve their families’ needs.
We seek to earn all workers at UNC a living wage and necessary benefits.
Pay-to-work policies are immoral and deceptive!
The University continues to impose parking fees on campus workers, who must pay to park on campus or park at another facility and drive their work vehicles to campus. These fees are scheduled to increase over the next three years. We believe that parking fee increases unfairly chip away at the flat-rate raises for campus workers for which UE fought in the state legislature.
We seek to end the University’s pay-to-work policies
A Safe Workplace
We need grievance procedures that work!
Grievance procedures for campus workers are notoriously complicated and must be completed within 15 days of an incident. Further, the necessary forms have not been translated into any language except English, despite 40% of housekeepers speaking English as a second language. These problems combine to seriously hurt workers’ ability to remedy dangerous workplace conditions and keep themselves safe from abuse.
There exists no formal grievance policy for graduate workers, other than the narrow federal provisions of Title IX, and UNC’s undergraduate procedures. As graduate students, our relationship with faculty is different from an undergraduate’s relationship with faculty, so our protections should be different too! Without a formal grievance procedure, grad students are often given no choice but to present grievances to the very people within their department with whom they have had a problem.
We seek to build a safe working environment with clear grievance procedures for all workers.
UNC as a Public Good
The University should serve the public good, not private interests!
The Workers’ Union at UNC has seen the continued privatization of University units and believes that these processes harm all of us. Just as the privatization of the student stores negatively impacted workers on campus, the planned privatization projects at UNC recently proposed by the administration will harm workers in all sectors at UNC. We oppose the privatization of departments, programs, and services on our campus.
More broadly we take a moral stance that the University is a public good, and should be used to the benefit of the community as a whole. We oppose the preservation of symbols of hate like Silent Sam; the use of the University as a platform for hate speech by racists and fascists; and the use of UNC police as a tool of oppression against the community. These acts are an injury to the public good!
We seek to preserve the University as a public good, and to push it to serve the public good.
A Campus for Us, By Us!
We demand UNC hires campus workers as direct employees and end the outsourcing of campus labor to private contractors. Pay us a living wage!