LETTER: The purpose of unions

By Martha Althea Webber

In John Bambenek’s column “Unions: A Relics of the past, taxpayer frustration” Bambenek makes several value judgments about what is “not a bad wage” for teaching assistants and how “difficult” or “hard” living should be expected while one is a graduate employee, since it is not “impossible” to live.

Acting much like large employers, Bambenek forgets a fundamental purpose for the existence of labor unions: it is not for one person – like John – or one side of labor – like the University – to determine the value of labor or what conditions and benefits employees can live on, either comfortably or difficultly. Labor unions like the Graduate Employee’s Organization argue instead that employers and employees should be able to negotiate in a productive dialogue, with mutual respect on both sides of the table, what the conditions and benefits of employment should be. An employment contract that has been agreed upon by both sides ensures fairness and transparency of process to all those involved and it guarantees enforceability of the conditions laid out in the contract as well. Without such a contract, employers like the University will continue to make often uninformed and arbitrary one-sided value judgments about what its graduate employees need to be able to support themselves and their families.