2017-2018: Ending the August-September Pay Gap

-We form a voluntary membership union, EmoryUnite!

-The August-September Pay Gap for new graduate workers comes to an end

-Computer Science students increased to 12-month pay

The new academic year brought enormous changes to our structure and our immediate objectives. We formed a voluntary membership union, sometimes known as a minority union (because it typically represents less than a majority of the workers in a workplace). We shifted our focus from building support for a union election to doing issues-based advocacy on campus (in part, we modeled our organization on Duke's Graduate Student Union).

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If we had won a union election, Emory would have had a legal obligation to negotiate a contract with us (something graduate students still do not have at all - which is why Emory can make unilateral changes to our pay, benefits, and conditions of employment without warning). That form of recognition would give us significantly more negotiating power, but because Emory hired a union-busting law firm to take advantage of Trump's election and the anti-labor National Labor Relations Board he installed, it was not possible for us in the short term. Instead, through advocacy and activism on behalf of grad students, we undertook to improve conditions one by one. In so doing, we are also building infrastructure and support for when it will again be possible to hold a union election.

The first issue we chose to organize around was the August-September pay gap. New graduate workers were required to arrive on campus in early August for orientation and classes started in mid-August, but we received our first paycheck at the end of September, and received no money for the time we were on campus in August. This meant that most grad workers had to move to a new city, pay two months of rent, buy textbooks, and even pay their "student fees" ($400+ due in August) all before receiving their first paycheck. Understandably, many of us went into debt in order to begin working for the university.

We held a pay gap picnic at the end of September, when students were most likely to be running out of money. At this event, we discussed the issue with Dean Tedesco, who told us that it was impossible to pay us in August because we did not turn in our I-9 forms soon enough. This claim proved false (given that grad workers were paid in August the following year), and is also illogical given that we were never presented with the option of turning our forms in earlier to be paid earlier.

We followed this event with several more in which graduate students expressed the hardship this policy called to the administration. But by far the most effective form of protest we found was the Acceptance Letter Addendum we wrote to be distributed to all recruits before they made their decision to attend Emory.

In addition to not paying their new workers for two months, Emory would wait until we arrived to inform us that we were not going to be paid. So, we took it upon ourselves to inform our potential future colleagues ourselves.

This is the most effective form of protest available to us (given that Emory has refused to negotiate a contract with us) - withholding from the administration part of the work we do every day in order to make the institution function (including those things that are well beyond our job description, such as helping to recruit new students).

We circulated a petition for students to voice their protest against the pay gap, and to indicate their willingness to share our letter with recruits in their department. Students from about 30 of Laney's 40 departments signed. The administration definitely took notice (shortly after our letter was shared with administrators, every DGS at Emory received a call from the administration warning them about our campaign).

Before the end of the decision period, Dean Tedesco announced to the GSC that the first-year grad workers would be paid a half-month of their stipend in August the following year. This was an enormous win for graduate workers that required the collective effort and support of almost 200 of our colleagues, and represented almost $300,000 in additional resources for Laney students collectively. Of course, we still know that Laney can do better. There are universities and other workplaces that not only pay their workers when they begin working, but offer them moving subsidies as well. Emory's unrestricted annual operating surplus was $76 million in 2016, so they still have plenty of resources to draw from.

In the process of organizing around this issue, we also learned from one graduate worker in Computer Science that CS students who held internships faced a pay gap every year, effectively receiving only 11-month pay. When we brought this to Dean Tedesco's attention she first denied it was happening and then agreed to meet with the students affected. At that meeting she claimed that it was an oversight that would be fixed for future classes (though no retroactive compensation was offered to the affected students). As far as we know, the administration and CS department kept this promise, but if any CS students are still not receiving 12-month pay, they should get in touch with us.