We are the graduate workers at Tufts. As we pursue degrees in our fields, we also work for the university as instructors, TAs and research assistants. We teach and mentor undergraduates, grade exams and papers, write grant proposals and work hand-in-hand with faculty on crucial research. Our long hours keep Tufts running.
Yet despite the work that we do for the university, we struggle to pay rent and access healthcare. According to the MIT Living Wage Calculator, a living wage for a single adult in Middlesex County is $29,547 a year, but many graduate workers at Tufts make significantly less than that. Even a small apartment in the area can cost two-thirds of our income. Many of us have to work second and third jobs just to get by. Additionally, our healthcare plan is very limited: we face steep barriers to getting mental healthcare and often have to skip the dentist entirely because it’s too expensive.
Our working conditions are also precarious. Some of us aren’t told what we’re teaching until after the semester begins; this keeps us from adequately preparing for our jobs and giving students the instruction they need. Others face dangerous conditions that the university refuses to fix. For instance, one office used by graduate workers sprung a leak near an electrical outlet; the outlet eventually caught fire, and still, the university took more than a year to stop the leak.
This is why last May, we came together and voted to form our union. We want an end to precarity—enough pay to support ourselves, and the conditions to do our work safely and well.
Tufts advertises its commitment to inclusion, social justice and active citizenship. But these values ring hollow if the university doesn’t pay its workers a living wage and guarantee them safe and stable working conditions. It’s time for Tufts to recognize that both the university’s brand and continued success depend on a fair union contract for graduate workers.