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comment by ilex

    It was common to hear analysts say things like, “I just love to solve problems.” But what they were really doing was solving something closer to puzzles. It’s clear to me, for example, that the janitor at my middle school solved problems when she cleaned up trash. It’s far less clear whether analysts at Capital One are solving problems or creating them.

This is a decent description of a lot of engineers. I see so many smart people here disappear into defense contractor work or predatory-ish startups because there are interesting puzzles to solve.

Meanwhile, unionizing grad students here would solve a lot of problems, but it isn't a puzzle, employers won't care if you put effort into it, and that work doesn't help you get closer to graduation, so nobody wants to do it. Far easier to just put your head down and solve puzzles until you've done enough to write up and leave.

    Under the data-driven directives of Capitalism 2.0, you can have a bunch of friendly data scientists who don’t think too deeply about the models they’re building, while tutoring low-income kids on the side. As far as they’re concerned, they’re refining a bunch of computer algorithms.




kleinbl00  ·  1606 days ago  ·  link  ·  

"Problem" can assume a moral angle. "Puzzle" rarely does. By turning problems into puzzles, the morality is laundered away. This is why we give certain problems to management - they only deal with the moral issue. Better yet, we take that problem away from management and give it to the shareholders. That way, since their only involvement is financial, the moral issue has been magically purged from the equation. Thanks, St. Friedman!

user-inactivated  ·  1606 days ago  ·  link  ·  
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ilex  ·  1604 days ago  ·  link  ·  

    How would that even work?

You get together a group of grad students willing to lead the organization, you hold town halls 'n meetings with students and you talk to them and learn what's making life hard for them and plan how you can improve it. You talk to your union reps (here, the NEA) and eventually get signatures and form a union. Then you cross your fingers that you won't have to go to court like the union at one of your sister universities did.

    Grad students are generally in a competitive and underpaid market, aren't in that market for a significant amount of time

Exactly, which gives us so very little leverage and basically no bargaining power. If you don't like what the school decides to do, tough shit, put your head down and try to get out as fast as you can.

Just to put things in perspective, at my school we do not get health insurance or any other kind of benefits despite often working jobs or being on grants that forbid us from working elsewhere at the same time. I don't even know how grad students with kids make ends meet.

To hold a TAship and most RAships you have to be enrolled full-time. It used to be that TAships paid about $16k/yr and then you paid $8k/yr back in tuition. And, let me tell you, the cost of living here is cheap but it sure as hell isn't $8k/yr cheap. A few years ago they finally put in a program like most other schools that reimburses tuition if you hold an appointment, but lately they are trying to walk that program back because it costs money. Last year they kinda jumped the gun and people got mad, but this year they've made some smaller changes that slid by unquestioned and I fear they're just trying to carefully boil the frog.

(And, as a side note, for me that $8k/yr pays for "research credit" which translates to "I talk to my advisor sometimes".)

Being on some research grants isn't much better. I've had a couple dry up with pitiful notice (one literally the Thursday before the semester started), and the one I'm on now penalizes you for having money in the bank, then shrugs when you complain that it takes 2-4 months for them to cut you a stipend check and that travel grants require you to basically loan the university a few thousand for a few months and look it's not like I'm expecting a lavish standard of living but it'd be nice to not have to worry about bills and food when I hold a job that requires some amount of postgraduate education, y'know?

    are trying to become the employers that they'd be collectively bargaining against.

For what it's worth, my advisor is vocally in favor of grad student unions.

I'm sure some folks are in grad school to get into higher ed administration, but most are just trying to be professors or R&D industry workers. Professors' hands are often tied with respect to paying their students -- the university sets TA pay and most grants have rules about how money is spent. It's hard for one professor to say, "hey, I need more money to pay my students well"; it's a lot different to be able to work collectively towards raising expectations about grad student pay.

Basically, I just want to be treated like I'm valued a little bit, even before I hold the piece of paper that tells everyone I'm worth something.

(I definitely think that professors' attitudes towards students without degrees contributes to the whole degree inflation thing.)

ilex  ·  1604 days ago  ·  link  ·  

Oh, and don't forget that a bunch of the students here are international and very concerned about losing their visas if they speak up about things.

kleinbl00  ·  1606 days ago  ·  link  ·  

    How would that even work?

You pass out cards that get signatures. If there are enough signatures, the teacher's union, which is AFL, swoops in and says "dear University, we have a preponderance of support from your grad students to negotiate on their behalf so under the labor laws of this state and nation, you get to talk to us." From that point forth, any grad student who teaches at that union has to pay the union dues. In exchange, the union bargains for their wages and benefits. It's a fairly simple process, actually.

    Grad students are generally in a competitive and underpaid market

That "underpaid" thing is why you unionize. The union says "yeah, so we can make this really ugly unless you start paying these students a living wage."

    aren't in that market for a significant amount of time

The union says "we're going to take your benefits contributions and put them in this handy 401(k) that's portable to wherever you end up next." next question?

    and for many of them are trying to become the employers that they'd be collectively bargaining against.

Really? They're going to become state legislators? Well then they won't really care much because generally state workers have pretty sweet pensions. Not only that, the money isn't coming out of their pockets it's coming out of their constituency.

user-inactivated  ·  1606 days ago  ·  link  ·  
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demure  ·  1605 days ago  ·  link  ·  

not so theoretical -- and at least at Berkeley, research graduate students are teaching graduate students. There is no distinction.

kleinbl00  ·  1606 days ago  ·  link  ·  
ButterflyEffect  ·  1606 days ago  ·  link  ·  

The best part is if a secret ballot election happens, you have a pretty goddamn good chance of “winning”.

I.e. if there are 500 grad students, and only 40 vote, only a majority of those 40 need to vote yes and POOF all 500 are union now.

kleinbl00  ·  1606 days ago  ·  link  ·  
ButterflyEffect  ·  1605 days ago  ·  link  ·  

Nope, I’m correct on this one. You’re talking card checks, and are right on that topic. I’m talking secret ballot elections which are different.

Here’s the money quote:

“If a majority of employees voting (i.e., not a majority of employees in the bargaining unit) in an NLRB-conducted election choose to be represented by a union, the union is certified”

https://digitalcommons.ilr.cornell.edu/cgi/viewcontent.cgi?article=1566&context=key_workplace

kleinbl00  ·  1605 days ago  ·  link  ·  

You are correct and also inaccurate.

    A petition can be filed by any union, worker, or employer. Workers or a unionmay request an election if at least 30% of workers have signed a petition or authorization cards (i.e., cardsauthorizing a union to represent them).

If there are 500 grad students, 250 of them can say "we wanna organize" and poof they're in the union. Or, if there are 500 grad students, 150 of them can say "we wanna organize" and now there's a vote. The union and the "employer" get to fight about who's allowed to vote and when the vote happens and yeah - if only 40 vote, 21 "yes" votes means you're union. But if only 40 people voted and the employer has made it abundantly clear he'll fire anyone who voted "yes" if the union measure fails, then you can consider that to be 460 votes for "yes", 21 votes for "hell yes" and 19 votes for "I'm a toadie who was bought off."

When dealing with employment one cannot disregard coercion.

ButterflyEffect  ·  1605 days ago  ·  link  ·  

How am I inaccurate when we’re saying the same thing? You’re just going a little more in depth. Jesus Christ this is why I left Hubski the first time.

kleinbl00  ·  1605 days ago  ·  link  ·  

    The best part is if a secret ballot election happens, you have a pretty goddamn good chance of “winning”.

This is the way you say stuff when you've never had a producer threaten you with never working again, when you haven't had supervisors take you aside and tell you how the business will close if they have to pay union benefits, when you haven't had coworkers take you aside and inform you that unions are un-American and that they don't know how they'd continue to be civil to someone who voted to unionize.

You're acting like there's some massive difference between getting 30% to say "yes" and getting 50% to say "yes" as if when you get to that magic 30% line, everything's all happy. I watched a fistfight nearly break out when my union was voting over whether we should go from 300 hours to 400 hours in order to secure benefits - there was a big argument from everyone who had been in the union forever that people who couldn't get 12 solid weeks of union work every six months "weren't real filmmakers" and deserved to be denied healthcare and pensions. What's fuckin' awesome is a lot of them were in the advertising side of things and they're starving now and go down the roster calling up strangers and begging for work but you'll excuse me if I get my hackles up when you act like winning deserves to be in scare quotes.

ButterflyEffect  ·  1605 days ago  ·  link  ·  

You’re 100% misinterpreting my comment if you think I’m saying there’s no difference between the two. There’s a huge difference and I’m leaving this conversation at that. Also re-read this comment and hoooooooooly shit you're making a lot of assumptions about me. Carry on.