BLACKSBURG, Va. – A living wage. That’s what dozens of people fought for Tuesday at Virginia Tech, and that’s why they’ve now formed two unions at the school.
From groundbreaking research to teaching hundreds of undergraduates, grad students are often referred to as the lifeblood of universities, but now, they’re taking a stand.
Graduate student Rachel Maizel said many others have struggled to stay above the poverty line in Blacksburg for years.
“A lot of graduate students were just really struggling to get by, they couldn’t afford lifesaving medications, they were living in places with black mold, it was really rough,” Maizel said.
After several years of work, two new unions were announced on campus Tuesday: The Virginia Tech Graduate Labor Union and United Campus Workers.
”We really want to have protections for graduate students, because there really aren’t any,” Maizel said.
Virginia Tech first adjusted graduate student wages this year after a living wage report the University released showed a discrepancy between the monthly stipend for grad students, and the cost of living, which currently falls around $2,900 a month.
However, grad students told 10 News they’re still not getting paid enough to get by.
Maizel said the main issue is that grad students often have to work well above contracted hours, and their pay does not reflect that.
”Their focus should be on providing great research so that Virginia Tech can become a top research university,” Maizel said.
The two unions held a rally on campus Tuesday, and grad student Prescott Vaydais was hopeful that the rallies would encourage more students and staff to join.
“Get the entire community here at Virginia Tech onboard and united to fight for what we deserve,” Vayda said.
Virginia Tech provided a statement that reads in part:
Our ability to attract, educate, and graduate talented graduate students is dependent upon a variety of factors, including institutional reputation, faculty expertise, and financial support. Accordingly, Virginia Tech continuously works to offer a competitive, holistic compensation package to graduate assistants that benefits students and the university.VT
These unions are just getting started, so in the coming months, they’ll hold elections for leadership positions, and outline their top priorities.