The Student News Site of University of Kentucky

Kentucky Kernel

The Student News Site of University of Kentucky

Kentucky Kernel

The Student News Site of University of Kentucky

Kentucky Kernel

Follow us on Instagram

United Campus Workers of UK hold rally demanding higher pay for graduate workers and an end to international student fees

Isabella Sepahban
David Schwartz (Left), English graduate student and teaching assistant, and Ian Mooney, philosophy doctoral candidate and teaching assistant attend UCW rally to fight for graduate student worker rights at the University of Kentucky in Lexington, KY on April 17, 2024. Photo by Isabella Sepahban | Staff

Over 40 people participated in a rally to demand higher pay for graduate workers as well as an end to international student fees in front of White Hall Classroom Building.

The participants, graduate students and doctoral candidates, as well as student workers within the United Campus Workers (UCW) union, gathered at noon on April 17.

UCW members handed out a number of hand-made signs to rally attendees that read “Mom, can you come pick me up, I’m UNDERPAID,” and “STOP exploiting grad workers” in different paint colors.

Union members also wore yellow bandanas around their arms for attendees to be able to identify them.

One student union member, University of Kentucky English graduate student Anika Jensen, said that UCW had been organizing this rally since January 2024.

“We’ve talked to hundreds of other graduate workers and have learned that the wages that we make at the University of Kentucky don’t match the labor that we’re doing,” Jensen said.

Jensen also said that, according to the MIT Living Wage Calculator, the wages earned by graduate students are not enough to survive in Lexington.

“In order to survive above the poverty line in Lexington, a single person with no children needs to be making almost $40,000 a year before tax,” Jensen said. “And we have some graduate workers who make as little as $14,000.”

To solve this problem, the UCW members created a campaign called “25 by ‘25.”

“Our demands for this ‘25 by ‘25’ campaign are a 25k ($25,000) based stipend for all grads across campus,” UK entomology doctoral candidate and UCW member Lexi Gauger said.

Toward the middle of the rally, UCW members handed out slips of paper to attendees. On these slips of paper were the phone numbers of the deans of the College of Agriculture and College of Arts and Sciences along with a pre-written statement.

UCW members instructed attendees to call the numbers multiple times throughout the rally and recite the statement on the paper to fill their voicemails.

The statement read:

“Hello, my name is (your name) and I’m a (your job title and office/department). I’m calling because graduate workers provide essential labor at UK, but the baseline stipends established by the Graduate Stipend and Benefits Committee are simply not enough for graduate workers to live on. As a result, graduate workers in your college are struggling to meet their basic needs. Recently a group of graduate workers from United Campus Workers reached out to you about meeting to discuss the financial struggles that grads in your college are facing, but your office has not made a plan to meet with us about our concerns. I am asking you meet with us at your earliest availability so that we can help you understand the realities of being a graduate worker in your college and we can develop a plan together to improve our conditions. Will you commit to meeting with UCW grad workers on this issue?”

A series of speakers shared their personal experiences of being a student worker at UK and discussed the need to gain the attention of UK’s administration.

“The decision-making power at the university is really concentrated in the hands of President (Eli) Capilouto and the Board of Trustees,” Gauger said. “In order to make meaningful change, they’re the ones who would have to step up to raise our stipends. We’ve tried (reaching out) at the college or department level, and it just isn’t enough.”

The rally also advocated for international students who have to pay additional fees that domestic students don’t have to, according to Gauger.

“That is burdensome on them,” Gauger said. “And we find it discriminatory that they have to pay more money just because they come from somewhere else.”

One international student worker in particular, doctoral candidate in geography Edgar Velozo, had personal experience dealing with the international student fees.

“Every semester, international students need to pay a hundred dollars (for) an international student fee,” Velozo said. “It comes out of our stipend, so even though all the students in the same department get the same amount of money, we have to take out money from our stipend and use that to pay the (fee).”

According to Velozo, many student workers have a hard time earning enough money to survive for a full calendar year.

“The money we get, which is around $19,000, is split between nine months,” Velozo said. “That means we don’t get paid in June and July.”

Velozo said this causes issues for international students, since they’re unable to get higher-paying jobs off campus due to their student visas.

“First, we don’t have enough money to save for the summer,” Velozo said. “Second, we don’t make enough money to go back to our countries and find a job there. And third, we cannot get a job here, so we’re stuck.”

The rally ended with UK geography graduate student and teaching assistant Hans Purisch leading attendees in a series of chants advocating for students workers and international students.

Ultimately, many of the UCW members had a shared vision for their hopes for UK’s future.

“We want the attention and support of all members of the UK community,” Gauger said. “While this rally is about grad workers, really our vision is for all workers on campus to have fair pay and a say at UK.”



Leave a Comment
More to Discover

Comments (0)

All Kentucky Kernel Picks Reader Picks Sort: Newest

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *