Why International Grad Student Workers Support GSWOC-UAW

GSWOC UAW
4 min readNov 23, 2022

By The GSWOC International GSW Committee

Life has not been easy for graduate student workers (GSWs). The cost of living in LA continues to skyrocket, the job market is weak, the prices of rent and gas are rising. Unfortunately, these burdens compound the challenges international student workers face. We often have additional concerns like supporting our family, facing uncertain career prospects in the United States, managing visa and immigration status, and much more. We are also disproportionately mistreated in the workplace, like being threatened with loss of funding or being unjustly dismissed. However, many of us feel like we have no choice but to endure injustice before seeking help. Our community is large but not loud enough.

According to the university’s official data, international students account for 31% of the doctoral and other graduate students at USC. We make important contributions at USC and support forming our union, Graduate Student Workers Organizing Committee-UAW (GSWOC-UAW), so that international graduate student workers are represented, heard, and seen. A union will allow GSWs at USC to elect a bargaining team and negotiate with USC administration. The resulting agreement, once ratified by a vote of all USC GSWs, becomes a binding contract, enforceable through our union. This process will give international GSWs a say in determining our wages, benefits, paid time off, and protections against unfair treatment. It can also provide us with greater support for navigating the US visa application process, understanding the local tax policies, and finding housing.

It is a poorly kept secret at USC that GSWs, and especially international GSWs, experience bullying, harassment, and discrimination in the workplace. A GSWOC-UAW survey, completed by over 960 USC GSWs, found that roughly 40% of respondents reported having experienced or witnessed some form of discrimination, sexual harassment, or abusive conduct while working at USC. The most common form of discrimination reported was “Different treatment in one’s department or group seemingly due to immigration status or being an international student.” Similarly, a study conducted by Nature across many research institutions found that bullying and other abusive conduct is not uncommon, and is especially detrimental to international students.

Unfortunately, many international GSWs who experience mistreatments also feel pressure to keep silent rather than defend their rights. Many of us have left behind our homes and families to come to the US alone, so we lack a safety net. Furthermore, if unjustly dismissed, international GSWs may have to leave the US in as little as 15 days. This pressure not only results in students being unable to solve their immediate problems, but can also leave them in a depressed psychological state. Moreover, many of us know all too well that perpetrators of abuse are not always held responsible for their behavior. A union can help to address these problems through enforceable protections against unfair termination and protections against abuse and discrimination. GSWs need to know that they will be supported and protected so they are more likely to make a complaint and help root out this bad behavior. With stronger protections in place, our entire community will benefit.

We have seen how a union can help international GSWs in many other ways. For example, GSW unions at other Universities have negotiated for higher wages and ensured that GSWs receive their pay on time, which can help with the sky-high price of living in Los Angeles. They’ve negotiated better, more affordable health and dental care, as well as guaranteed vacation days so that international GSWs have sufficient time to visit their families. At Harvard, they set up a fund to help international GSWs with immigration issues and won paid time off to attend visa and immigration proceedings. Crucially, with a union, all of these benefits are part of an enforceable contract with the University.

Pull quote graphic with red text and a light yellow background. Quote reads, “International GSWs make valuable contributions at USC, and we should have a stronger voice and stronger representation, our needs should be met, and our rights and interests should be protected.”

Unionizing with UAW, alongside tens of thousands of other GSWs and Postdocs, also gives us a powerful voice on other issues that impact our lives. Existing unions have worked for better US immigration policy, like increasing access to Optional Practical Training (OPT), opposing the “Fixed Duration of Status” rule, and working with members of Congress to oppose the 1-year period of validity for Chinese entry visas. UAW is continuing to work for progressive change to US immigration policy, and by joining UAW we will be adding our voice to this ongoing movement.

International GSWs make valuable contributions at USC, and we should have a stronger voice and stronger representation, our needs should be met, and our rights and interests should be protected. We should actively participate in and lead campus-wide efforts for change. With thousands of USC GSWs in support of forming a union, we can make tremendous changes at USC.

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GSWOC UAW

We’re Graduate Student Workers at USC coming together to form a union with the UAW to improve our working conditions & create a stronger and more equitable USC.