UAW Solidarity House | 8000 East Jefferson Avenue
Detroit, Michigan 48214 | p. (313) 926-5000
© Copyright 2013 UAW. All Rights Reserved.
Is teaching a real job?
Of course it is. But for years, administrators at some of the nation's top colleges and universities have tried to argue that teaching assistants, research assistants and other academic employees are not really workers, simply because they are also enrolled as graduate students.
At the University of California, for example, academic student employees fought for 17 years to gain union recognition. They had to lobby for changes in state law, and the UAW backed them every step of the way.
"A lot of unions would have walked away after the first year or two, but not the UAW," says Wei-Min Brian Chiu, a teaching assistant at the University of California, and a member of UAW Local 2865. "When we needed help, they were there for us. That really made a difference."
With a new law in place, a majority of 10,000 academic student employees on eight UC campuses voted to join the UAW. "We can really see the difference," says Chiu. "Before we organized, different people in different departments tried to change working conditions, but they were unsuccessful. As individuals, we really didn't have as much power as we do now, since we formed our own union."
In addition to standing up for the rights of public sector academic workers, the UAW also won a landmark ruling for workers at private sector colleges and universities. The National Labor Relations Board ruled in April 2000 that New York University teaching and research assistants have a right to join a union.
In January 2002, NYU workers won a historic first contract. "This contract is amazing," said Elina Gorfinkel, a teaching assistant in the NYU Cinema Studies Department and a member of the UAW Local 2110 bargaining committee that negotiated the agreement. "We got major wage increases, 100 percent health care coverage and real improvements in our working conditions."
If you are interested in organizing your workplace with the UAW, contact our Organizing Department or call 1-800 2GET-UAW (1-800-243-8829). You'll be connected to (or get a call back from) a UAW organizer who can answer questions and tell you what it takes to organize a union at your workplace.
If you're in Canada, call 1-800-387-0538 to reach UAW Local 251, a Canadian UAW local union that helps Canadian workers organize.