Graduate workers and allies gathered on Bascom Hill on the first day of the fall semester to show solidarity, educate passersby on graduate workplace issues, and deliver over 800 new petition signatures to university administrators.
“We are here to kick off the school year by reminding the administration that our campaign for mandatory fee relief and workplace policies continues,” Teaching Assistants’ Association (TAA) co-president and history graduate student Robert Christl said. “This is the year we get rid of mandatory fees for graduate workers, including [for] international grads.”
The TAA’s petition calls for a living wage for graduate workers, relief from mandatory fees, an end to the international student fee, and continued review of university policies and procedures through shared governance. So far, over 1,200 supporters have signed. An initial round of signatures was delivered during graduation weekend in May.
The rally began with chants and songs backed up by the Forward! Marching Band. Graduate workers then shared stories of how burdensome mandatory fees and unfair workplace conditions had shaped their experiences in graduate school.
“To this administration, I do not work,” said computer science graduate student Ankur Goswami, who works as a teaching assistant. “In this past year, I’ve learned that this administration thrives on a lack of knowledge and a lack of accountability. They rely on their workers being in the dark.”
For the 2019–2020 academic year, segregated fees increased by 13% to $725.98 per semester for graduate students who are not yet ABD. For workers on 33% appointments, that amounts to one out of every $10 in wages going back to the university.
International graduate workers pay an additional $100 per semester as part of a federal program that requires universities to keep tabs on their international students. The Madison City Council ruled this fee discriminatory in 2003.
In April 2019, the TAA led a 400-person sit-in at Bascom Hall in support of fee relief. The administration waited two weeks before responding, expressing opposition to the TAA’s demands and stating a “philosophical” position that all graduate workers must pay fees.
In the face of stonewalling from the administration, the TAA continues to escalate action in partnership with other campus organizations. German, Nordic, and Slavic Studies graduate student Brandy Wilcox emphasized that united efforts produce wins.
“When we work together, when we stand together, we get things done,” she said.
Sign the TAA’s petition here: bit.ly/dontpushgradworkers.