Student Assistants Push for Union Representation

Zhanserik Temirtashev, Managing Editor

Amid a funding crunch for many California State University campuses due to dropping enrollment, student assistants across the nation’s largest public university system are forming a union to secure better pay and working conditions. 

Despite providing critical services to the CSU system as researchers, teaching assistants, tutors, and administrative support staff, student assistants involved in the recent wave of campus labor activism are reporting inadequate pay, restrictive hour ceilings, absence of benefits, and fickle job security in the face of rising costs of tuition and living expenses. 

“Your education is not free,” said Health Education Assistant Ashley Hanson, adding that “not everyone can take out $50,000 loans every year. You can’t divorce work from academics.” 

As a unionized employee, Hanson “recognized the power in working as a team.” Wishing to share her epiphany and help to facilitate better working conditions for students, Hanson devoted her time and effort to spreading awareness of the campaign and engaging student leaders. “I am in this campaign for [students],” Hanson stated, listing greater on-campus representation and perks for student assistants, such as parking and sick pay, as immediate priorities for the student assistant union to address. 

Hanson’s advocacy efforts resonate with students. “I was being treated as and doing comparable work [to] CSU East Bay staff, but lack the same benefits they receive,” commented Adrian Ramos, Computer Science senior and student assistant with Information Technology Solutions. 

While Ramos is pleased with the accommodating schedule and the opportunity for career development that his on-campus employment affords him, granting eligibility to student assistants for parking permits, remote work privileges, sick days, or vacation days should be given more attention by university administrators as part of East Bay’s enduring commitment to social mobility, social justice, and sustainability. “It’s inherently unjust that student assistants don’t even have a voice at the table to represent themselves,” expressed Ramos, acknowledging that while providing benefits to student assistants may be an obstacle, “these difficulties are being treated as impossibilities.”

According to Ramos, “all student-held positions on-campus are inherently transient,” making student assistants especially vulnerable to exploitation and job insecurity. In response to these issues, Ramos and Hanson engage with student assistants through informational outreach to encourage student involvement and spur a sense of solidarity. 

“Activism is most effective when it’s grounded in personal connections and relationships. That’s why I think it’s crucial to build meaningful relationships with other Student Assistants, as well as members of the broader CSU East Bay community, to foster a culture of open and comfortable conversations about these important issues,” Ramos explained. 

In the largest non-academic student worker organizing effort in U.S. history, student assistants across the CSU system have filed for a union election on Apr. 17, submitting 4,000 union authorization cards to California’s Public Employment Relations Board according to the California State University Employee Union.

While the movement has been gaining traction, it is ultimately up to the students to keep the momentum going. “Students will have as much representation as they are willing to be active,” noted Hanson. 

Despite the prospective challenges ahead, Ramos and like-minded students are committed to setting a firm foundation for a future student assistant union. “I believe society prospers when old men plant trees whose shade they know they shall never sit in,” Ramos illustrated.