I was eating lunch outside Broad Café with my labmates. When the time grew closer to 12:30 PM, we got up from our table to head to the rally. I was surprised—we weren’t the only group of people getting up from their table at this time. Grad students and postdocs all around got up from their tables, like us, and started heading south in unison. We were all heading in the same direction: weaving our way through the paths on campus, until reaching Caltech Hall together.
Last Wednesday, September 27th 2023, the Caltech Grad Researchers and Postdocs United (CGPU) held a New Year, New Union rally to demonstrate that a supermajority of graduate students and postdocs at Caltech support forming a union. After months of CGPU organizers going lab office to lab office and knocking door to door at the Catalina apartments, union authorization cards are signed, momentum for a unionized Caltech graduate and postdoc workforce is building, and efforts look to soon to reach their climax.
According to CGPU, over 400 people across all divisions attended the event. CGPU believes that “unionizing will make Caltech a better place to work, and ultimately produce better science.” During the rally, organizers passed out union t-shirts and signs as everyone gathered on the lawn. The event began with call and response chants starting with “Who’s Caltech?” and answering with a roar from the crowd “Our Caltech!”
Two graduate students, Korbi Thalhammer (Geochemistry, G3) and Nadia Suryawinata (Biology, G3), shared personal stories as to why they supported unionization of the graduate and postdoctoral community at Caltech. Thalhammer discussed his experiences contracting Valley Fever on a field trip run by his division and the lack of support he received from Caltech administration. Suryawinata detailed her experience as an international student and the realities that many international students face when their visa renewal and positions here at Caltech are under the sole discretion of their advisor. Each story echoed the call that grad students and postdocs need better pay, protections against harassment, and more protections for international students.
Along with unionization efforts across the country, Caltech grad students and postdocs gathered this day to illustrate their belief in democratizing their workplaces. In 2023, union workers from Los Angeles Unified School District, Rutgers University, Writers Guild of America, Screen Actors Guild, Kaiser Permanente, Starbucks Workers United, UPS, to United Auto Workers (UAW) exercised their right to peaceful protest and strike as a means of collective bargaining for improved working conditions and pay.
CGPU says its next steps are to request from Caltech a fair process to verify and recognize their union, CGPU-UAW. They will also file with the National Labor Relations Board (NLRB). CGPU would be part of a national union, UAW, which is the largest union for higher education academic employees in the country. The graduate and postdoctoral communities within the UC system are also a part of UAW.
The rally concluded with another round of call and response chants where the crowd was asked “Are you willing to stand up for your fellow labmate?” Answer: “Yes!” “Are you willing to stand up for grad students and postdocs you don’t know in another division?” “Yes!” “Are you willing to stand up for future grad students and postdocs you haven’t met yet?” “Yes!”
The yes’s rang out in unison.