Skip to Content, Navigation, or Footer.
Support independent student journalism. Support independent student journalism. Support independent student journalism.
The Dartmouth
June 20, 2024 | Latest Issue
The Dartmouth

Conaway: I Am Going on Strike — and You Should Too

Graduate student workers are striking for each other.

On May 1, the Graduate Organized Laborers of Dartmouth-United Electrical Workers — the College’s graduate student union — began its strike for a fair contract. Now, many of us graduate students are wondering why or how we should participate. I’m writing to say that I am striking, and my fellow graduate students should too. The cost of attending Dartmouth’s graduate programs has spiraled out of control. In the last five years, we have experienced an 83% increase in rent without a sufficient change in pay. Graduate workers currently have no paid medical or disability leave. International students face the extra burdens of immigration fees and precarity due to their visa status. Parents are especially financially burdened by insufficient childcare support. These barriers mean that higher education at Dartmouth is only truly accessible to the privileged few. These issues must be resolved for the sake of our workers and the future of our programs.

Last summer, we began our first contract negotiations. Our proposals include terms that would allow us to seek remediation in cases of workplace harassment and have access to comprehensive benefits, dependent care, reimbursement for immigration fees, a living wage and raises tied to the cost of living. For the first five months, we discussed the non-economic terms of our contract, and Dartmouth rejected even boilerplate proposals like nondiscrimination and grievance procedures. Dartmouth did not make any significant moves until we marched to deliver College President Sian Leah Beilock an open letter and packed the bargaining room, in person and on Zoom, with more than 100 graduate workers on Nov. 16. In January, we presented our initial proposals for the economic terms of our contract including compensation, cost of living adjustments and comprehensive benefits. Our employer, Dartmouth, didn’t respond to the majority of these proposals for two and a half months, even canceling an entire bargaining session. We held a walkout on the Green in late March, making it clear to the administration that we are organized and ready to do whatever it takes to win a fair contract. Dartmouth supplied economic counters two days later, including a $7,000 raise. It has become clear that collective action is the only meaningful mechanism to move Dartmouth toward an agreement. 

While Dartmouth delayed, hundreds of graduate workers organized. Ultimately, we voted on April 17 in an overwhelming majority to authorize a strike. We did not make this decision lightly, as we understand that striking our labor will affect the quality of education for the undergraduates we instruct, our advisors’ research and even our own research and progress toward our degrees. We realize that going on strike will include no small degree of sacrifice. Yet our members have made it abundantly clear that those sacrifices are worth it given what we have to gain. We will continue to withhold this labor until Dartmouth agrees to a contract that resolves the issues that brought us together in the first place.

When we win comprehensive benefits, we will finally get the care we need to avoid lifelong effects on our physical health. With dependent care and short-term medical leave, many of us will no longer have to sacrifice our futures to support our families and our health. Relief of immigration fees would make Dartmouth a more accessible place for passionate minds from around the world. Most widely felt, a living wage and COLA tied to housing costs would ensure that graduate workers will not face an undue financial burden for pursuing their education here at Dartmouth. We have the opportunity to not only improve the lives of graduate workers at Dartmouth but to also make wins for the graduate labor movement everywhere.

Dartmouth can make graduate education here accessible for everyone regardless of financial, marital, citizenship, or disability status. However, the administration will continue to delay unless we act as a collective and continue our strike, making conditions so intolerable that they have no choice but to agree to our proposals. Without our research, this institution would lose its R1 status, not to mention the 64% overhead Dartmouth takes from every research grant. Faculty lack the time and resources to replace our labor when we are not teaching. The impact this strike will have on those outside of our bargaining unit should not be dismissed. That said, faculty and undergraduates have published open letters expressing their support and pledging not to cross our picket lines by taking up graduate student teaching and research labor. They understand this strike is our strongest point of leverage to win the benefits we so desperately need.

For us to succeed, we must act in solidarity with one another. Any labor that continues during the strike dilutes our power and makes our strike last longer. For graduate student workers who are hesitant to join the strike: If you feel that the costs to your advisor, undergraduate students or yourself are not worth what we stand to win, I implore you to reconsider the harm your actions have on your fellow graduate workers. Consider the dozens of workers whose landlords have increased their rent each time the College raises students’ stipends. Consider the parents among us who pay nearly $6,000 per year for dependent medical insurance and $12,000 to $26,000 per year for childcare — while trying to perform their duties at work and survive on the same salary you do. Consider the hundreds of students who forgo medical leave, many of whom incur irreparable damage. Consider the 8% of our union who have experienced having no money to buy food. Consider that there are students facing harassment in our workplace who cannot speak up because of the fear that they could be fired and deported. Consider all the bright and capable people who either leave our programs or never apply because they cannot bear these impossible burdens. Even if you are sheltered from these realities, please consider striking for your coworkers and friends who need this contract.

Out of respect for the collective will of my fellow workers, I am on strike, withholding all teaching and research labor. Not all graduate workers are in a position to do this without incurring severe personal repercussions, but I implore all of you to join me and hundreds of other graduate workers in GOLD-UE by striking as much as you can. The more impactful the strike is, the more we can win.

Amy Conaway is a graduate student studying molecular and cell biology. Guest columns represent the views of their author(s), which are not necessarily those of The Dartmouth.