The Fearless Student Employees Coalition is teaming up with a Maryland delegate this semester to gain collective bargaining rights for undergraduate and graduate student workers in the University System of Maryland.
While the Maryland House of Delegates and Maryland Senate are in session, the Fearless Student Employees Coalition — a student group formed last semester that comprises the Graduate Student Government, SGA, Student Labor Action Project, United Academics of Maryland and Graduate Assistant Advisory Committee — is working with Del. Marc Korman to write legislation that would overturn prior measures that keep student workers from being able to collectively bargain, said Katie Brown, GSG public relations vice president.
Collective bargaining rights allow for workers to negotiate their pay and their work.
"We are trying to start a campaign to reach out to students," said Brown, noting that oftentimes student workers do not realize that they are not considered employees. "We want to show them that there are ways to fight back."
Del. Korman introduced a bill to the General Assembly on Feb. 10 that removes student employees in the system, St. Mary's College, Morgan State University and Baltimore City Community College from a list of employees who are not allowed to engage in collective bargaining. This bill is meant to be the start of giving student employees the ability to ask for higher wages and better working conditions, Brown said.
Last semester, the GSG passed a resolution calling for the state Senate to recognize graduate assistants and other student employees as formal employees, and also held a town hall to discuss student workers' labor issues. Moving forward, Brown said GSG will be focusing on informing campus committees about student campus workers who struggle with low wages in order to gain campus support for collective bargaining, Brown said.
Currently, the minimum wage for both undergraduate and graduate student workers at this university is $8.75, less than the $10.75 minimum wage in Prince George's County. Because this university is a state school it only has to follow state minimum wage requirements, even if they differ from county requirements. That is one of the problems the coalition wants to change.
"Right now, the university's minimum wage is different than the Prince George's County minimum wage, which makes no sense," GSG President Stephanie Cork said.
The Student Labor Action Project, whose mission is to promote economic justice in the university, has been working to document stories of student workers struggling to make ends meet with their student jobs on top of their classes. So far, they have been posting pictures of students on social media along with statements about how they've been struggling.
"Right now we are building relationships with student workers," said Morgan Hess, a communication graduate student and organizer for United Academics of Maryland, a graduate student employee union. "We want to hear their concerns. We want to work for student employees."
University President Wallace Loh told the GSG he had no comment on collective bargaining for students, Brown said. She noted that she viewed the lack of comment as a small victory, because Loh initially implied he did not support collective bargaining rights for student workers.
Last August, the National Labor Relations Board ruled that graduate students at private colleges who work as teaching or research assistants are employees and have the right to join unions. Graduate students from public schools in this state pushed for collective bargaining rights in 2012. The state legislature almost passed a law that year allowing them to do so, but at the last minute the state opted for a meet-and-confer process instead, Brown said.
The meet-and-confer process, which allows students to express concerns and make requests regarding their jobs without any structured agreement, is not preferable for student workers, Brown said, adding that the process and student worker demands or concerns are not taken seriously enough
"Meet and confer is not working," Brown said. "We need to push back against legislation that prevents students from collectively bargaining."