Graduate Worker Union at UW-Madison: We Must Organize!

TAA – Graduate Worker Union of UW-Madison

Issued September 2, 2020:

Today is the start of the most bizarre, upside-down, shameful semester we’ve ever seen at UW, set amidst a global pandemic and a mass uprising against anti-Black state violence. We hope that everyone has individually made their working and learning situations as safe as possible.

The University of Wisconsin-Madison has abdicated any sense of responsibility to the well-being of its students, workers, and those under its supervision, going as far as to require students to sign pledges releasing the university from liability for student well-being. This university is now—and has been for a while—a business first; it is responsible primarily to its debtors, and we are all its source of revenue.

Marginalized and underrepresented students will shoulder the disproportionate burden of these twin crises of COVID-19 and systemic racism, compounded by administrators’ refusal to offer anything other than austerity. Put simply, UW is failing all of us, failing this community, and failing the state of Wisconsin.

To combat this feeling of powerlessness, Madison needs to get organized. We are stronger together. One way to do that is through building a union culture at UW and in Madison. There’s a reason that Wisconsin legislators went after public sector unions in 2011’s Act 10 battle (

Public sector unions have the power to imagine and democratically enact a different type of university and education system guided by our community’s needs and collective capabilities. As a labor union, we believe changing institutions starts with community control and empowering workers to govern our own workplaces.

How would this semester be different if the teaching assistants, research assistants, foodservice workers, housefellows, custodial staff, building trades workers, adjuncts, athletes, faculty, and administrative staff could run the university as a unified body? If workers were in control of our workplaces, would we reopen campus and bring tens of thousands of people into town during a pandemic? Would there be furloughs? Would tuition have risen across the board? Would administrators be making $150,000+? Would head coaches be making $4 million while athletes go unpaid? Or would there be better safety protocols? Income continuation and hazard pay for essential student and campus workers? Deep and sustained investments in ensuring the success of BIPOC students and other students of color?

The state legislature eliminated any meaningful shared governance in 2015 with Act 55—it’s purely a ceremonial advisory role now. What is required is collective action. Together, we can shut down the university until administrators come to the table.If you are seeing this, and you work at UW, get tapped into your unions. AFSCME Local 171 and AFSCME Local 2412, Building and Construction Trades, United Faculty and Academic Staff, and the TAA.If you are a housefellow, a dining hall worker, an athlete, or other student worker and you want to learn more about organizing to change your working conditions, contact us. Solidarity to everyone right now.

We love you and will fight alongside you.[Image description: At the top of the image, a large fish chases a small group of disorganized fish. Below this is the phrase “Organize!”. Below the phrase, the small group of fish has grown and has come together to chase after the same large fish.]

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