Why UH grad students should unionize

The only thing that works for working people is to join a union.

Will Caron

Currently, graduate student students at the university are the only state workers that are not permitted to unionize or collectively bargain with their employer. House Bill 1277 and Senate Bill 406 would change that and give these hard-working student employees the same fundamental workers rights that the rest of Hawaiʻi’s government employees depend on.

“This is about more than just wages and benefits,” said Benton Park Rodden at an economic justice rally held on Sunday, Feb. 12. “We’re not exactly making widgets over at the university. We’re engaged in the production of new knowledge, and when you limit the production of knowledge to those who are wealthy and well-connected, you limit what we are capable of doing as a society, and the kinds of information we operate on.”

Rodden is a graduate student at the Hawaiʻi Research Center for Futures Studies. He did his undergrad in Political Science at DePaul University and he currently serves as the Advocacy Chair of the University of Hawaiʻi at Mānoa Graduate Student Organization, where he campaigns for legislative action, community activism and change that will benefit students and, therefore, the university.

“What we’re fighting for is the opportunity to change the conditions of possibility so that we can advocate for the world we wish to create,” said Rodden. “I know that when we succeed in uniting academic labor, our alu will become an unstoppable force for change, both here and nationally.

“We’re getting hit from all sides right now,” he continued. “The current White House and Congress has gone ahead and politicized the grant process. They’re attacking researchers when they don’t like the results. They’re attacking our international students, preventing them from being able to do work. We can’t fight every struggle we have on our hands right now; we can’t be fighting both the lawmakers in D.C. and the lawmakers in Honolulu: we need support from our local legislators. We need your support.

“If you care about the facts, than you need to understand that facts aren’t free. Somebody has to work to put the facts together. Somebody has to do the research to make it happen. If you want a public science that works for the public good, than you need to support it. This is a fight that started a long time ago—in the 1970s—when students first started agitating at the university for collective bargaining rights. It’s a fight that we plan to finish,” Rodden concluded.

The House bill is scheduled to be heard by the House labor committee (its second committee hearing) on Tuesday, Feb. 14 at 10 a.m. in conference room 309. The senate bill has yet to be scheduled for a hearing by the senate labor committee.