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Speaking Out

Graduate Employees Unite!

Part of the major strategic plan at Florida State University to reduce spending over the next few years has been to increase the number of undergraduate students we graduate assistants teach. But the university has not increased funding in order to accomplish this.

Graduate assistants at Florida State have been burdened with overcrowded classrooms, sub-standard health insurance at steep rates, and inadequate pay. These concerns have not been addressed by the administration.

Even though we outnumber faculty and adjuncts and comprise the largest working body on campus, the administration has neglected our poor working conditions because we have had no voice.

That was until, in 2007, graduate students from departments across the university gathered to explore options for change. For the past year, we have conducted a card drive to win union representation through the United Faculty of Florida, so we can represent ourselves in collective bargaining.

The strategy of the card drive has been the office visit, where volunteers from Graduate Assistants United visit fellow graduate employees in their offices and labs to talk face-to-face about our working conditions—a discussion graduate employees rarely have at the university. We typically ask about workload, access to health insurance, and class sizes. If we find, for example, a research assistant is working in a hazardous lab without adequate health insurance, it gives us information we can use later to try to improve these working conditions. Office visits also enable us to recruit organizers in the departments.

Building a union has empowered graduate employees at Florida State to see ourselves as a vital part of the university’s workforce. Many faculty might feel graduate employee unions are unnecessary. But graduate employees are the future faculty members of the nation’s colleges and universities. Strong faculty unions begin with strong graduate employee unions. We are going to file our cards with the labor board this month and hope to have our election in the spring. Wish us luck!

Sandra Simonds is a Ph.D. candidate in Creative Writing at FSU. Her first book of poems, Warsaw Bikini was published by Bloof Books this year. She can be reached at

Danielle Holbrook a Ph.D. candidate in communication studies at Florida State University, is a gay rights and disability activist in Tallahassee. Contact her at

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