Official newspaper of The University of Texas at Austin

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Official newspaper of The University of Texas at Austin

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Official newspaper of The University of Texas at Austin

The Daily Texan

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October 4, 2022

Underpaid@UT announces decision to unionize

Carla Garcia Leija

Underpaid@UT, a group of graduate students fighting for living wages, announced their decision to unionize on April 3.

Evan Scope Crafts, an organizer with Underpaid@UT, said graduate students founded

Underpaid@UT in 2017. The organization achieved early success by fighting to end a $2,000 fee that some graduate students paid as tuition. While the organization’s momentum slowed in the following years, he said he and other organizers devised a new strategy for the organization, which included unionizing. 

“We’re hoping to connect graduate students and workers from across the University because ultimately the power we have as graduate students is the same power (as) workers everywhere,” said Scope Crafts, a doctoral student in the Oden Institute for Computational Engineering and Sciences. “Which is power as collective labor and, ultimately, our ability to withhold that collective labor.”

Áine McGehee Marley, a doctoral student in the Department of African and African Diaspora Studies, said the group’s key demands include calling for a living wage, more accessible graduate student housing and affordable childcare. 

Unions in Texas face challenges due to their lack of ability to strike, said Julius Getman, an expert in labor law, in an email. He said public employee unions have a “limited effect” on wages and working conditions.

Scope Crafts said the group’s decision to unionize is more about spurring collective action.

“Sometimes when people think about unionization, they think about an organization that they pay dues to and that negotiates their contract,” Scope Crafts said. “But throughout the history of the United States, we’ve seen workers get together without legal protections, without the formal structure of what many people think about as a union and fight for what they deserve.”

Ana Gonzalez, Texas AFL-CIO director of organizing and advocacy, said in an email that regardless of Texas laws, unions still hold power to catalyze change.

“When working people speak up together, they have the ability to form a union. It does not matter that Texas laws and some leaders openly discourage workers from pursuing better livelihoods in unison,” Gonzalez said. 

McGehee Marley said people are at a moment in history where workers appreciate the power of collective action.

“People are coming to a consciousness that it’s not an individual problem, it’s a systemic problem,” McGehee Marley said. “People are inspired by seeing the success that other movements have had, even in higher education.”

Scope Crafts said Underpaid@UT’s role as a centralized resource hub fosters conversations about working conditions across departments.

“When people get siloed into their departments, … I have seen a trend where that’s where exploitation flourishes,” McGehee Marley said. “By centralizing in some sort of way, we are helping people recognize what isn’t normal, what shouldn’t be happening, and then seeing what trends there are in different departments or colleges.”

Scope Crafts said while UT administration has not been receptive to the group’s demands, Underpaid@UT will continue fighting for graduate students. 

“We’re going to fight for at least a fraction of the value we generate for the university,” Scope Crafts said. “People who teach important classes at UT shouldn’t be paid $20,000 a year.”

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