Graduate student workers at USC have voted to unionize, the United Auto Workers union announced Friday.

The vote was held Feb. 15 and 16, with students approving the union by a 1,599-to-122 margin.

The Graduate Student Workers Organizing Committee-United Auto Workers will now represent about 3,000 teaching, research and lecture assistants at the university.

Piril Nergis, an electrical engineering research assistant who was among the organizers, said the unionization vote was the product of a lot of effort. She added that she was excited for what lay ahead.

Nergis, who also attended USC as an undergraduate, said she hoped the unionization would lead to better working conditions for assistants, who she said experienced abuses from faculty that “go unpunished and unaccounted for.”

“I’ve had some experiences where I’ve seen faculty yell at (teaching assistants) during final exams,” Nergis said of her undergraduate years. “That was kind of my first insight into what being a grad student was like.

“And then actually becoming a grad student at USC, in my department,” she added, “made me find out about how how bad it is.”

“We are so energized by this resounding vote in favor of our union,” Stepp Mayes, a student worker in civil and environmental engineering, said in a UAW news release. “The support for our union keeps growing stronger, and we will be bringing this solidarity and energy to the bargaining table.”

In a statement, USC said it “fully supports” the students and “respects their decision to be represented by a union.”

“We recognize the important role they play at the university,” the school said, “and are proud that we provide stipends and benefits for our graduate students that already are very competitive with those of our peers, including the stipends and benefits recently agreed upon after extensive negotiations at UCLA.”

In December, a strike of unionized academic workers in the University of California system resulted in higher wages; minimum salaries for academic student employees were raised from $23,250 to $34,000 for nine months of part-time work.

The vote comes amid a wave of academic worker unionization drives across the country, with students from the University of Washington and Worcester Polytechnic Institute in Massachusetts voting to unionize within the last year.

“Over the past two years, more than 20,000 academic workers in California alone have unionized with UAW,” the union said. “UAW now represents nearly 100,000 higher ed academic workers across the country.”

Last week, Los Angeles City Council President Pro Tempore Curren D. Price Jr. and Councilmember Hugo Soto-Martínez signed a letter expressing their support for the students’ efforts.

On Friday, Soto-Martínez celebrated the victory.

“It’s so inspiring to see young people standing up for their rights as workers to organize for fair wages and working conditions,” he said. “Sí se puede!”


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