Waving posters, chanting slogans and wearing Teaching Assistant Labor Organization T-shirts, over 70 students and community members gathered on the Main Green Wednesday afternoon to show their support for TALO in advance of Thursday’s unionization vote.
The election will determine whether computer science teaching assistants can form a bargaining unit under the Graduate Labor Organization. All undergraduate, meta and head teaching assistants who are currently working or worked in the fall 2022 semester are eligible to vote, The Herald previously reported.
Eight TAs speaking at the rally shared why they plan to vote “yes” on forming the union and becoming part of GLO.
“The TA experience is the student learning experience,” said Yasmine Abdelaziz ’25, a TALO organizer and head teaching assistant for CSCI 0200: “Program Design with Data Structures and Algorithms,” in her speech. “We’re voting yes for TALO because all of us deserve better.”
The election is the result of months of planning and organizing efforts from CS TAs. TALO organizers launched their campaign last December, with the aim of negotiating with the University on issues such as pay, TA responsibilities and working conditions, The Herald previously reported. After the University declined TALO’s request for voluntary recognition, TALO filed a petition with the National Labor Relations Board and proceeded to negotiate the terms of an election with the University.
“If the teaching assistants in computer science ultimately vote to form a union, we will respect that choice and enter into negotiations toward a collective bargaining unit,” University Spokesperson Brian Clark wrote in an email to the Herald. “Whether they vote in favor of a union or not, the University is committed to working in good faith to address their concerns.”
TALO organized the rally to promote participation in the election and “get people hyped,” Abdelaziz told the Herald. In advance of the election, Abdelaziz said she felt “very hopeful.”
“I believe that TALO can make long-term change for the CS department and that TALO can make a difference in our everyday work life,” she said.
Speakers at the rally emphasized the importance of first-years, sophomores and first- and second-time TAs participating in the vote, as well as their role in continuing the legacy TALO hopes to create. They also spoke about the implications of an undergraduate union for Brown’s largest undergraduate TA program potentially creating change for undergraduate student workers across all departments and facilities.
“I’m voting ‘yes’ for all student workers that deserve the protections and community that a union promises,” said Colton Rusch ’23, a TALO organizer and HTA for CSCI 0320: “Introduction to Software Engineering.”
“We are uniquely positioned to ignite a labor movement on campus,” he added.
Rusch also commented on the potential implications of the unionization effort for undergraduate workers — if a majority of eligible CS TAs vote “yes” in the March 2 election, TALO will become Brown’s first undergraduate union, continuing a trend of undergraduate student labor organizing across the country.
“Voting ‘yes’ tomorrow is the first step in winning a wall-to-wall undergraduate union on Brown’s campus,” he said, expressing hopes for organizing among students who work in other departments, dining halls, research labs and the Office of Residential Life.
Members of other student organizations who attended the rally expressed support for TALO, including Students for Educational Equity and Brown/RISD Young Democratic Socialists. YDSA “firmly supports” an eventual “wall-to-wall undergraduate union,” said Ruth Schlenker ’23, a member of the organization.
“Working conditions are also learning conditions, especially when it comes to the TA program,” said Jada Wooten ’24, co-president of SEE. Most of the group’s executive board attended the rally in solidarity with TALO, Wooten said.
Speakers at the rally talked about their own and other TAs’ experiences in the CS TA program: working far more hours than the University’s 20-hour recommended maximum for undergraduate students, taking on responsibilities beyond their expectations and encountering a lack of structure for formal feedback.
Eva Lau ’23, a TALO organizer and HTA for CSCI 0320, said her initial experience working in the department reminded her of what she has seen from her parents’ experiences with exploitation and toxic working environments.
“As a first-generation daughter of immigrants, we have been conditioned to bow our heads and stay complacent to our employers, even at the cost of our physical or mental health,” she said in her speech. “I’m voting ‘yes’ because I know that (my parents) would want me to fight for my rights as a worker, to lift up all rights for all workers.”
“I’m voting ‘yes’ because I’ve worked enough jobs in enough industries to know that exploitation can happen anywhere,” Lau continued. “When workers are united, workers are at their most powerful.”
Haley Sandlow is a section editor covering science and research as well as admissions and financial aid. She is a sophomore from Chicago, Illinois studying English and French.