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– UMaine System Urged by Graduate Student Union to Negotiate Equitable Contract

The recently established Graduate Workers Union at the University of Maine is urging the University of Maine system to engage in negotiations for a fair contract and to implement safeguards for graduate student workers. This initiative reflects a broader trend of increased union activities within colleges and universities nationwide, with many employees advocating for improved compensation and working conditions.

Em Sowles, a fourth-year Ph.D. student in the physics department and a research assistant, expressed dissatisfaction with the lack of recognition and respect for the contributions of graduate workers like herself. She highlighted the need for various protections to be included in the contract, such as higher wages. Sowles disclosed her struggles with housing affordability, citing an annual income of $28,000.

The union’s advocacy extends to supporting international student workers like Alessandro Mereghetti, who emphasized the existing disparities in treatment and the unique challenges faced by individuals from distant locations. Andrea Tirrell, a research assistant focusing on ecology and environmental studies, emphasized the collective effort required to drive meaningful change, stressing the importance of union representation in negotiating for improved working and living conditions.

While a university system spokesperson acknowledged the value of student contributions and expressed optimism about reaching a mutually satisfactory contract, graduate student employees continue to voice their concerns. The Maine Service Employees Association, representing staff within the Maine Community College System, staged a protest to demand higher wages and the reinstatement of merit wage increases.

Michael Hillard, an economics professor in Maine specializing in labor movements, highlighted the nationwide surge in union activities within the higher education sector. He underscored the significance of a “movement culture” that fosters activism and collective action among university workers, drawing parallels to historical labor movements.

As negotiations progress for the University of Maine graduate workers, led by individuals like Em Sowles, the focus remains on securing a comprehensive contract that addresses not only financial and benefit-related aspects but also establishes effective mechanisms for addressing discrimination and harassment. The unity and determination displayed by union members underscore their commitment to advocating for a more equitable and supportive work environment.