“Chancellor Cartwright, it’s getting late.”
A drum rattles at the base of the MU Columns on Francis Quadrangle.
“It’s time for you to negotiate.”
That was one of many chants participants in the Coalition of Graduate Workers’ annual rally shouted during the noon hour Wednesday. About 75 graduate workers, undergraduate students, faculty and others showed up in support of the coalition’s main goals, which are:
- Bargaining with the university for graduate worker rights.
- The recent closure of Cub Hub, a child care space for student parents.
- More affordable health insurance.
- Full tuition waivers.
- Rights for international graduate workers and marginalized groups.
Jeff Stilley, a doctoral student worker in the Sociology Department and a parent of children 7, 4 and 2, said he came to MU in 2014 because of the child care offered at the time. He and his partner had been using Cub Hub three to four days a week for three hours of free child care. That service is no longer available as of last week, he said, and he doesn’t know why it was closed.
ParentLink, which is the umbrella organization for Cub Hub, and MU Student Affairs, which funds Cub Hub, did not immediately answer calls.
“It was a great way to catch up on grading, reading. It helped out a lot,” Stilley told the crowd. “If we had collective bargaining, a seat at the table, we could be in on those discussions about how to take care of child care.”
The group has been fighting some of these issues since fall 2015, when graduate student workers received an email in mid-August saying their health insurance subsidies would end. After an outcry, the subsidies were returned.
That wouldn’t have been possible without the first rally, said the group’s outreach chair, Nicholas Brothers.
Kristofferson Culmer, a doctoral student in computer science and one of the original 2015 workers who fought for reinstatement of the subsidies, said he was back for the fourth rally to continue supporting the coalition. He and other supporters wore red T-shirts and held signs with slogans such as “People Before Profit” and “Grads Make Mizzou Work.”
“(We’re) continuing to try to work with the university for recognition and a seat at the table to be able to bargain for our rights and needs and to settle definite, set-in-stone contracts to ensure that our rights will never be taken away from us again,” said Simona Simkins, co-chair of the coalition and a doctoral student in theater.
In her rally speech, Simkins questioned whether the university is living up to its core values of respect, responsibility, discovery and excellence. Standing underneath the “Discovery” banner hanging between two of the MU Columns, Simkins asked: “Are we respecting our sense of discovery and inquiry when we make our working conditions, our students’ learning conditions that challenging?”
“They’re not,” she answered.
The event took place shortly after Chancellor Alexander Cartwright’s State of the University address in the MU Student Center. He didn’t mention graduate student workers in his speech.
The rally comes two months after a Boone County judge ruled that MU’s graduate student workers are employees in a lawsuit filed by the Coalition of Graduate Workers against the UM System Board of Curators. Judge Jeff Harris of the 13th Judicial Circuit wrote in his opinion that they’re employees because “the University, through its practices and policies, treats them like employees.”
Graduate workers at MU had been pressing the board for nearly three years on the issue, and the board has refused to recognize the Coalition of Graduate Workers as a union. The coalition was favored as the sole collective bargaining unit by 84 percent of participating graduate students in an April 2016 vote. The group now has about 200 dues-paying members, Brothers said.
The board doubled down on its disapproval of the coalition by filing a notice of appeal at the end of July. The case could soon be taken up by the Western District Court of Appeals.
“I think the community is with us,” Brothers said. “I think graduate students have been buoyed by the affirmation of what we’ve always known, of course — that we are workers, that we work on this campus, that we’re subject to all the same structures and have to fulfill the same responsibilities as any faculty member.”