Helping Philosophy Grad Students on Strike (updated)


As we noted last week, graduate student workers at Boston University (BU) have gone on strike to demand increased stipends and improved benefits.

The University states:

Our graduate student workers have the right to strike, but the University also has a legal right to withhold compensation from striking employees for the days they are on strike. The University intends to withhold pay from any graduate student workers who are on strike for the duration of the strike period. 

Only graduate students who attest to working will be paid. Those who fail to attest to working, or attest that they did not work, are not being paid starting this week. Today (Friday April 5th) was their pay day and I am informed that they were not paid

A source at BU writes:

Many of our philosophy graduate students are (barely) living paycheck to paycheck, and they could use the profession’s support. If you’d like to support them, you can make monetary gifts directly to our department’s PhD students via CashApp (extremely easy to download and use if you don’t already have it) at their handle: $buphilgrad.

The graduate students will internally distribute the funds to those most in need. Thanks in advance to those of you who choose to help support them.

You can learn more about the strike and the Boston University Graduate Workers Union here.

UPDATE (4/7/24): There is some discussion in the comments about graduate student TAs making $42,000/year. This is not the case for graduate students in philosophy and the humanities, who, as some commenters note below, are on 8-month stipends, make in the “mid $20,000s”, and are “prohibited from outside work while receiving it.”

For some comparisons, according to the Forbes Advisor Cost of Living Calculator, a $27,000 salary in Boston gets you a standard of living similar to making the following salaries in the following cities:

  • $42,000 in Manhattan, New York
  • $27,000 in Washington, DC and Los Angeles, California
  • $19,000 in Charlottesville, Virginia and Chapel Hill, North Carolina
  • $18,000 in Austin, Texas and Atlanta, Georgia
  • $17,000 in Columbia, South Carolina and Lincoln, Nebraska
  • $16,500 in Urbana-Champaign, Illinois, and in South Bend, Indiana
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Kat Rayman
Kat Rayman
1 month ago

Can non-American also legally make contributions? Brown Graduate Labor Organization (GLO) recommended that “foreign students cannot make financial contributions to political organizations in the United States. This means that international students cannot donate…” Are donations going through/to the Union?

buperson
buperson
Reply to  Kat Rayman
1 month ago

I’m no legal expert and I’m not giving legal advice, but to clarify, these are just personal monetary gifts–the gifts are going directly to the philosophy PhD students, not through or to the union.

WRE
WRE
1 month ago

Just a note. Graduate student workers at McGill University in Canada are also on strike, and in equally dire financial straights. The university has been taking a very aggressive stance towards them too (I don’t know whether this is the case in Boston), calling on the police the harass striking students.

Dr EM
Dr EM
1 month ago

Grad students at Western (Ontario) are in a strike position starting Thursday as well.

Don Ferderick
1 month ago

Okay, two points about this. First, I was prepared to be sympathetic to these BU students (as some TAs often times really aren’t paid enough) – I was paid about $1000 a month as a Philosophy TAs about a decade or so ago, and that wasn’t much but it was plenty to rent a cheap room, eat meals and get by. The DN story (linked to from this one) says “ The University’s latest offer includes an increase in the 12-month PhD student stipends to $42,159 next year and an overall 13 percent over three years. BU has also offered a commitment to raising the minimum rate for students paid hourly, from $15 to $18.” This is the highest TA pay I have ever heard of; the fact that these TAs are whining about this beggars belief. They’d be better of using their energy trying to get top 5 publications (which they’ll need to get a job coming out of BU) rather than complaining about what is for philosophy TAs a very very comfortable salary.

Caligula's Goatheard
Reply to  Don Ferderick
1 month ago

I think this is an important point – the salary here (42K!) per year is a problematic one to go on strike about because there really are some TAs out there not being paid enough, and the optics here are awful: most professional philosophers here will have TA for half that and not complained. But, more pressingly, many TAs simply don’t get nearly this much, and THEIR case is weakened in the public eye when much better off TAs are (inexplicably) raising hell over making … among the very highest TA salaries in the US.

Sam Duncan
Sam Duncan
Reply to  Caligula's Goatheard
1 month ago

This is the same argument every union buster always makes to undermine solidarity with strikers. My uncles were union guys and whenever they’d go on strike the first line the PR flacks would throw out was pretty much always “What are these guys whining about? Do you how much someone at (Volvo White/the Radford Arsenal/Anchor Hauling) makes? It’s ——— and that’s 150% (or whatever number) what the average worker in Pulaski County makes?” Never mind that what the average factory worker in our corner of Appalachia was pathetic and would have been even worse had the local factories not had to compete with a few union shops. If you’re secretly working for BU well then you guys need fresh material. If not don’t do their work for free.

Kenny Easwaran
Reply to  Sam Duncan
1 month ago

I don’t think that the fact that other arguments of the same form would be bad ones should lead us to conclude that this argument is a bad one.

Surely if they were striking for $13,000 in annual pay to live in Boston, the fact that someone else is making less would not be relevant to our sympathy, while if they were striking for $100,000 (while relative cost of living for everyone else was the same as it actually is) most of us would have little sympathy.

I haven’t spent time thinking about whether $42,000 is an appropriate level to be negotiating over, but I think the actual pay level is what matters here, not the form of the argument.

a nonny mouse
Reply to  Don Ferderick
1 month ago

$42,000!?! and they are striking as TAs? When I was a Philosophy TA, I used to eat potatoes with salt and pepper (multiple meals a day) and some fruit to not get scurvy, and I was happy as a pig in slop — no one considered raising a stink. We were after all being paid to think about philosophy , and paid enough to do it! (along with enough for a few beers on the weekends with the other students). I can only imagine that with $42000 we all would have gotten ourselves in to trouble. Sounds to me like these kids have too much time and money on their hands

This Guy
This Guy
Reply to  a nonny mouse
1 month ago

How much did you make as a graduate student (including both TA work and any potential summer stipend/work), and what years were you a graduate student? Also, were you in a high cost of living area (NYC, LA, Boston) or a mid/low cost of living area?

Let’s run the numbers through the inflation calculator.

https://www.usinflationcalculator.com/

Matt L
Reply to  This Guy
1 month ago

For what it’s worth, I put the stipend I got from Penn as a grad student into that and got $29,000/year (it was $17K a year at the relevant time – and this was comparatively generous among the places I’d been accepted) and the stipend I’d got at SUNY Albany and got $15,000/year (it had been $8K/year at that point at Albany.) So, $42K/year seems reasonably well paid in comparison. Comparisons might not be the only the relevant, and these inflaction calculators are not well designed to tell the full stories, but it doesn’t seem obvious that stipends haven’t kept up with inflation. There can be lots of other good reasons to be unhappy with the work environment, of course.

This Guy
This Guy
Reply to  Matt L
1 month ago

Great! So it looks like you were making more in real terms than the philosophy TA’s are currently making and slightly less in real terms than the 31.6k proposed by the administration. My point is that the expressions of exasperation at the absurd stipends of grad students by some commentators are unfounded.

Carolyn Dicey Jennings
Carolyn Dicey Jennings
Reply to  This Guy
1 month ago

I took a look and 30k is about average for graduate students, not high (including all income sources): https://apda.ghost.io/graduate-student-income/

Charles Davensworth
Reply to  Don Ferderick
1 month ago

I am surprised striking TAs making FORTY TWO THOUSAND a year is getting the DN sympathy vote. How about focusing on TAs who are actually struggling? I read that at BU as in most US places the stipend comes with free tuition. I can’t stand the way US Republicans talk about academia… like a kind of leisure class elites — but Philosophy students striking over being paid $42thousand a year to TA feeds right in to that problematic narrative.

This Guy
This Guy
Reply to  Charles Davensworth
1 month ago

Every graduate program worth its salt provides free tuition. Otherwise, students would be paying to work for the university as TA’s and there would be no graduate students or TA’s. What are you talking about?!

Ellie
Reply to  This Guy
1 month ago

That’s simply not true; it’s the norm in the US. In the UK, students do NOT receive free PhD tuition. They can hope to get a competitive AHRC PhD scholarship, but these are highly competitive and rare; tuition in the UK is less than in the US but it’s far from trivial. Many philosophy PhD students either get their AHRC stipend (which is far less than what BU student gets) and free fees, OR they pay, e.g., £10k a year in fees, take out a loan, and try to make the rest up by TA work. Many AHRC students also do TA work along with their stipend.

This Guy
This Guy
Reply to  Ellie
1 month ago

I admit that I am not familiar with the UK system. That seems untenable for those students, though. I think they should go on strike.

Meme
Meme
Reply to  This Guy
1 month ago

The complaint isn’t that grad students get tuition remitted. The complaint is that demanding more than 42K while also getting a free education looks like bad optics (idk whether that’s right or wrong, but it’s different from your interpretation).

Casey Landers
Casey Landers
Reply to  Don Ferderick
1 month ago

Let’s not fall prey to this poor line of thinking: “It was hard for me to go through X, and so it isn’t that big of a deal for others to go through X/or they should be happy with what they get”…

Also, let’s keep in mind that Boston is an expensive city. My rent for a tiny apt there in 2019 was almost $3000/month. The daycare I paid for was also close to that! So we simply cannot directly compare living stipends for graduate students across the board. We must take into account where those students live.

Ellie
Reply to  Casey Landers
1 month ago

Casey, I agree with your general point (not to buy in to “when I was a kid, X” line of thinking), but I think you’re going too far in the other direction. A quick google shows you can get a pretty sweet room in Boston for just over 1K a month, and much nicer than anything I had in Grad school (and notice that this is in the city, not even looking outside Boston).https://junehomes.com/residences/boston-ma?utm_term=rooms+for+rent+boston+ma&utm_campaign=Bos_Gue_Sea_Adw_En_Dom_All&utm_source=google&utm_medium=cpc&gad_source=1&gclid=Cj0KCQjw5cOwBhCiARIsAJ5njuYEcRAZ8qCpSzzntfeKZhQpWSdDss65HRuqZlnPhWHq739ui181xiMaAgYLEALw_wcB So that means you could get by for about 15-20K a year max rent in Boston renting a good room – leaving… more than half your salary left after rent is paid. That is a heck of a lot better than I had in grad school even living in a less expensive area – rent covered about 70% from my TA stipend.

L J
L J
Reply to  Ellie
1 month ago

A few important points: (1) a room is much different than an apartment, as I’m sure you know; (2) in order to sign a lease, landlords often require proof of income 2.5-3x the rent. This means that in order to even rent a ROOM for $1225 a month, as your link indicates, requires an income of ~36k-44k, the high end being less than the proposed raise. And as the commenter above notes, the norm is not a 12 month stipend (and thus, 42k, but a 8 or 9 month stipend, and closer to 31k).

It’s very worrisome to me that many comments here, raised by presumably competent thinkers, frame the issue in terms of what wage grad students “deserve” in some abstract terms rather than the value they provide to the university (which cannot properly function without them) nor what the university is able to pay, given their income sources (as we know, the cost of grad students is a very low percentage of overall university expenditures).

Dr EM
Dr EM
Reply to  L J
1 month ago

I don’t think that it’s unreasonable to expect single graduate students to share appartments with other people. In fact, I think doing so goes a long way to making the graduate school experience a positive one – less isolating, friends from outside your program, etc. Of course a couple may want an apartment to themselves, but both of them will presumably be working in that case.

This Guy
This Guy
Reply to  Don Ferderick
1 month ago

I am very concerned about this comment and other comments’ inability (or unwillingness) to understand (a) that different metro areas have different costs of living, (b) that inflation both exists and has been higher than normal over the past couple of years, and (c) that TA’s are workers without which universities cannot function.

A full-time living wage in the Boston metro area for one adult is over $62,000 annually. (https://livingwage.mit.edu/metros/14460)

This Guy
This Guy
Reply to  This Guy
1 month ago

I would also note that, if BU functions like other universities, 12-month stipends are those typically awarded to students in STEM fields. Most humanities fields award 9-month stipends. The linked article comments on this:

The University offer would also move PhD students currently on eight-month stipends to nine-month stipends, which would mean an increase in year one of the contract to $31,619.”

So, presumably the offer to many philosophy TA’s is half of a living wage in the Boston area.

I am very, very concerned that presumed philosophers’ knee jerk reactions (based on these comments) are both so quick to throw TA’s under the bus and so uncareful.

BU grad student
BU grad student
Reply to  This Guy
1 month ago

This is absolutely correct. The university constantly cites the 12 month stipend that only a few STEM students would receive. Those of us in the humanities have an 8 month stipend worth 2/3s as much (in the mid 20,000s) as the current 12 month stipend. And we are prohibited from outside work while receiving it.

Ellie
Reply to  This Guy
1 month ago

It remains that 42K is among the very highest in the country for TA stipend. So, here is what is not great: the people striking are the richest TAs. Do they have a right to strike? Of course! Are they likely to get sympathy from some people? Sure? Is the case they make going to resonate from philosophers all most all of who TA’d for much less money? Not really. If most people are driving a rusty ford Dart (and don’t go on strike but just keep driving the Dart), hearing about people complaining about their Lincoln Town Car, given that the Town car is slightly less than the average quality vehicle driven in Boston, you’re going to find some very small violins.

This Guy
This Guy
Reply to  Ellie
1 month ago

Bad arguments all around. First, it’s unclear if they are the richest TA’s. We need to compare standard stipends against cost of living. This is the whole point of bringing up the Living Wage Calculator. Second, even granting that they are the richest TA’s, they wouldn’t be driving a Lincoln Town Car, but a used Kia in comparison to the rusty Dart driving poor TA’s. The administrators and tenure-track faculty would be the Lincoln drivers. Third, Dodge manufactures the Dart, not Ford. Fourth, Lincoln town cars aren’t that nice anyways.

Aquatic investigator
Reply to  This Guy
1 month ago

 “First, it’s unclear if they are the richest TA’s.” Pardon me, but If the coast guard is listening – I would like to report a Sea Lion! Of course 42K is among the richest Philosophy TAs?! Who do you think we are, bankers? Anyone reading the DN will have probably TA’d for less than that – in most cases, much much less.

This Guy
This Guy
Reply to  Aquatic investigator
1 month ago

A dollar was worth 137.4% more in 1990 than 2024; 80.2% more in 2000 than 2024; and 42.3% more in 2010 than 2024. I went to graduate school in 2010 and made the inflation-indexed equivalent of $42K in a city with a much lower cost of living than Boston, and I was not living high on the hog.

Do you not understand the concept of inflation and cost of living differences?

Less than 32K
Less than 32K
Reply to  This Guy
1 month ago

It’s also less than 32k — 9 months for a lot of labor — grading hundreds of papers each semester and running discussion sections. And International students can’t work outside the university in the summer which puts them in a very tenuous position, especially those with children. .

Sadman was
Sadman was
Reply to  Less than 32K
1 month ago

Definitely less than full time though

Kenny Easwaran
Reply to  Aquatic investigator
1 month ago

Comparisons of TA pay in the past aren’t particularly relevant here – but comparison of current TA pay at other institutions (particularly other institutions in expensive coastal cities) is more relevant.

Does anyone happen to know the numbers for current TA pay at Georgetown, USC, NYU, CUNY, UC Berkeley, SF State, Boston College, MIT, Harvard, etc?

Carolyn Dicey Jennings
Carolyn Dicey Jennings
Reply to  Kenny Easwaran
1 month ago

Quick pass on total grad income from 2023 APDA Survey (see https://apda.ghost.io/graduate-student-income/):

13 people in Boston universities (BC, BU, Harvard, MIT) provided their graduate student income in the 2023 APDA survey: average of $38,153.

26 in NYC (Columbia, CUNY, Fordham, New School, NYU): average is $37,038

33 in California (Berkeley, Stanford, UC Davis, UC Irvine, UCLA, UC Riverside, UCSB, UCSD, USC): $31,545

Sadman was
Sadman was
Reply to  This Guy
1 month ago

TAs don’t work full time though.

This Guy
This Guy
Reply to  Sadman was
1 month ago

“Being a graduate student is your full time job” was the constant refrain from my professors. They also used this idea to try to prevent us from taking on work outside of our TA assignments.

Since being a graduate student is a full time job, universities should pay graduate students a living wage or close to it.

David Wallace
David Wallace
Reply to  This Guy
1 month ago

I told *under*graduates at Oxford something fairly similar; should they get a living wage too?

This Guy
This Guy
Reply to  David Wallace
1 month ago

Were they workers, as graduate students are? Were they prevented from working outside of their TA assignments? Are you able to read?

Dr EM
Dr EM
Reply to  This Guy
1 month ago

Oxford undergraduates are not permitted to work during term time (3 x 8 week terms).

This Guy
This Guy
Reply to  Dr EM
1 month ago

How classist. I have now learned two things about the UK system in this thread of comments, both of which make the US system seem comparatively better. Do they receive any sort of living stipend if they’re poor or middle class?

Shen-yi Liao
Reply to  Don Ferderick
1 month ago

I find this thread of comments utterly puzzling. If your concern is genuinely with other grad students who have it harder (and not merely trolling), then you should be even more supportive of the strike!

If BU grad students succeed, that is better for grad students elsewhere. Individually, because students who get into different programs can use this potentially as a point of negotiation. (Most programs don’t negotiate much, to be clear, but there can be some at margins at some places.) More importantly, collectively, because grad students at other places—and their unions, if they have one—can use BU grad students as an example of why their wages should be raised!

That said, I do have a complaint for the BU grad students: I don’t want to sign up for another transferring app so can you diversify the ways you take in money?

Sam Duncan
Sam Duncan
Reply to  Don Ferderick
1 month ago

There’s a lot to say about this but first and foremost it’s just a deeply stupid argument that I’m embarrassed to hear someone who claims to be a philosopher make. By your reasoning because they sent children into unstable mines with no safety gear in Victorian times anyone who complains about children working in say a meatpacking plant today is just being a whiner. Heck even those Victorian children in the mines couldn’t complain they could have been slaves after all right?

Aquatic investigator
Reply to  Sam Duncan
1 month ago

Another Sea Lion has been spotted! This is a record day at sea! The point here made by Don Ferderick (spelling?) looks to be an expression of distaste at the richest TAs striking, striking over pay that is at the highest end of the scale seen in Philosophy, past or present.

This Guy
This Guy
Reply to  Aquatic investigator
1 month ago

The philosophy TA’s are currently making in the mid-20k range, based on one commenter above. The offer from the administration is less than 32k for 9-month stipends, which includes philosophy TA’s. The claim that either mid-20’sk or 32k is the highest end of the scale for philosophy TA’s past or present is laughable before we even account for varying costs of living in different metro areas.

Creature of Darkness
Creature of Darkness
Reply to  Don Ferderick
1 month ago

While some may whine, it’s irrelevant to the justification of the strike. It’s negotiating. In our society, people ought to find ways to negotiate their salaries. The strike is a legal and moral means for that. To the thought, perhaps implicit in this post, that BU grad students are striking for too much money: 1) Why should you care? They’re not taking your money. 2) The only money anyone deserves to have is what just institutions owe them. And since we’re quite far away from those institutions, off to the negotiating table of our society: the streets.

Michaela McSweeney
Michaela McSweeney
Reply to  Don Ferderick
1 month ago

As the placement director at BU I can assure you that our students regularly get tenure track jobs without publications in top five journals. In fact, our job placement is better than many top twenty programs. I think the other responses cover the rest of this comment but I thought this portion of the comment was both wrong and seemed ill-intended.

Hermias
Hermias
1 month ago

Wait, you guys are getting paid?

should grad students be paid more?
should grad students be paid more?
1 month ago

Ideally everyone should be paid well enough so that they don’t have to struggle with housing and childcare etc. But is it financially feasible? I feel that having graduate students on average is a substantial net financial loss for a university. Let’s say a grad student is paid 32k a year, and say 50k if we add other benefits. I am paid a lot as a faculty and half of my job so far has been helping grad students make progress in the program (I am not representing anyone else though, just speaking of myself). So it seems that a university pays a lot in total to help graduate students. Say a grad student’s labor is roughly equivalent to an adjunct’s (who is vastly underpaid for sure), including their research output. Putting these numbers together seems to suggest that having grad students is already a costly ideal for a university. Is this rough calculation wrong? I just want to figure out whether we can really hope for a substantially higher pay for grad students, even though that would be very nice if possible.

Ryan
Ryan

Where I am located, grad students teach 2 classes a semester on their own (not TAing for someone else) every semester starting year 3. Each class consists of around 30 students. Each student pays around $50k in tuition a year. Let’s say each student takes 5 classes a semester. That’s 10 classes a year, and thus they are paying about $5k a class (less than that because of student services and whatnot, but still this is all a rough approximation). Finally, $5k times 120 students a year means that one TA at my uni is helping to produce about $60k of value for the university.

This is all rough approximation, of course, but by my lights, the labor of grad assistants is likely to be undervalued.

Jamie Dreier
Jamie Dreier
Reply to  Ryan
1 month ago

Finally, $5k times 120 students a year means that one TA at my uni is helping to produce about $60k of value for the university.

Ummmmm.
You missed a decimal place.

(On the substance, I basically agree with everything Shen-yi Liao said above.)

Ryan
Ryan
Reply to  Jamie Dreier
1 month ago

Whoops thanks for catching that. I should have wrote $600k a year. Of course, this is a rough approximation, but even so I don’t see a problem with grad students–whose labor the university depends on–making more money.

Sam Duncan
Sam Duncan

On this subject of whether it’s possible to pay graduate students more I’d note that while I couldn’t dig up the salary of BU’s president the last one made over two million. More importantly, they have a 3 billion dollar endowment and charge $90,000 a year in tuition.

should grad students be paid more?
should grad students be paid more?
Reply to  Sam Duncan
1 month ago

Maybe the university can afford paying the president only because they bring significantly more money to the university than their salary. *Maybe* the university cannot afford paying grad students significantly more because they are in contrast net financial loss for the university, though completely essential.

In my former university, which was founded on super rich donors, there was a living crisis for grad students. Our grad students literally cannot survive on their stipend. In the end, the university puts the students in *shared rooms* in dorm buildings, which is unacceptable for Phd students due to their odd lab hours. In a survey, 40% phd students regretted accepting our offer. We faculty argued countless time with admin on this unacceptable situation. But the admin never budged. They were not transparent either, only doing desperate PR nonsense about how much laudable effort their team put into ensuring a living space for every Phd on campus, etc etc. *Maybe* a rich university is not rich enough for paying grad students well.

shouldn't philosophers be a little sharper?
shouldn't philosophers be a little sharper?
1 month ago

Power to the grad students at BU. Thanks for fighting to make philosophy accessible to the broader working class.

For those here saying some of the highest paid TAs shouldn’t strike (or it is a bad look, or embarrassing), please consider why your first reaction was not instead to point out how embarrassing it is for a university with a 3.2 billion dollar endowment to withhold pay from strikers (pay which is, for BU, mere pocket change and which is, for the grad workers, a life or death income).

Matt L

how embarrassing it is for a university with a 3.2 billion dollar endowment to withhold pay from strikers
This claim is always interesting to me. In Australia, it’s illegal to pay people who are on strike, and it seems that that’s so in Canada, too (I’m less sure there.) This leads to me to believe that it’s at least not obviously wrong not to pay people who are on strike, given that, while they are far from perfect, Australian and Canadian labor law are both more pro-worker and in most ways more humane than US labor law. Is the idea that workers should be able to withold their work as a negotiating tactic (I agree they should be able to do so!) but should also be paid while they are doing this? That doesn’t seem obvious. Or maybe I’m misunderstanding the claim?

it’s not hard to be pro-worker and yet
it’s not hard to be pro-worker and yet
Reply to  Matt L
1 month ago

Yes you’re misunderstanding the original claim, which is both about what institutions should(n’t) do and where our attention (as philosophers who at least ostensibly care about the value and fate of our educational institutions) should be in these cases.

But let’s be clear: The Australian prohibitions on paying strikers are vehemently anti-union and anti-worker. (Here is a source to learn more about these prohibitions and why they’re anti-worker: https://journals.sagepub.com/doi/pdf/10.1177/0022185618806949

To insinuate that, simply because Australia tends to have better labor laws than the US, perhaps these laws are also onto something fair about what employers owe to strikers, is confused.

To address the point you were wanting to get at (which again is different from the original claim) on whether employers should pay striking workers – here is one answer: Yes, they should. Workers go on strike when their employers aren’t bargaining or otherwise acting in good faith, usually after many repeated attempts to get them to do so. Employers should act quickly to end the strike so they don’t have to pay strikers — but, most importantly, they should do this by SETTLING the strike. That is, they should come to the bargaining table (or whatever) in good faith to carve out a path forward with workers. Employers should not end the strike by BREAKING the strike (by withholding pay or making threats or whatever. Breaking the strike is just another bad faith move, giving strikers all the more reason to stay on the picket line.

David Wallace
David Wallace

I find that argument odd. The whole point of a strike is that employees stop doing the job they’re being paid for and so they stop getting paid for it. The thing that makes a strike a high-stakes move is that both employee and employer are pausing the thing that both rely on. Hence unions use strikes as a last resort. If the right to strike included a right to keep being paid, what would stop unions using them all the time to get whatever concession they felt like – or just because its members felt like not working in a given week?

Put a different way: going on strike means not doing the things you’re contractually obligated to do for your employer. Employment law recognizes that in legal strike situations, the employer isn’t allowed to fire you for it, but they’re still not obligated to follow their half of the contract – i.e., pay you – if you’re not following your half.

Sadman was
Sadman was
Reply to  David Wallace
1 month ago

The argument is that such laws protect workers’ livelihoods during strikes, thereby upholding their ability in practice to protest and bargain collectively. The hope is that striking remains a viable option for workers seeking improved conditions in cases in which it would otherwise just be a risk that is just too costly to take. The employer-employee symmetry you hint might not be such a symmetry, given the assumption that as a rule the burden lost wages will be much higher for workers, than the burden of lost labor will be for employers (which group is more likely to be evicted after a few months of a strike without pay?). The justification of the laws requiring striking workers to be paid (and there are conditions btw) is really no different from the justification of a law forbidding employers from firing workers on a legitimate strike. You could make the same argument you gave against that law—if employees could be fired it would be even more a high risk move for both parties…

“Employment law recognizes that in legal strike situations, the employer isn’t allowed to fire you for it, but they’re still not obligated to follow their half of the contract – i.e., pay you – if you’re not following your half”

This just begs the question. Employment law in many places does oblige the employer to keep paying you so they are indeed contractually obliged to.

Last edited 1 month ago by Sadman was
David Wallace
David Wallace
Reply to  Sadman was
1 month ago

I would be interested in learning what those “many places” are, and what incentivizes strikers there to settle at all if they could just continue not working while being paid.

Matt L
Reply to  David Wallace
1 month ago

I wasn’t able to find any general source of information on this, but did find that striking workers are not paid (sometimes legally cannot be paid, someitmes perhaps are simply not paid) by the employer while on strike in the UK, Spain, Norway, Sweden, Finland, Israel, Germany, Italy, New Zealand, Japan, and France (in addition to the places mentioned above.) I did not find any countries where it was stated that striking employees must be paid by the employer. In some of those places workers are (sometimes) paid a portion of their wages by the union from strike funds, but of course the ability to do that depends on the number of workers and the length of the strike, and this is a sort of insurance, not something the employer provides. Of course, that leaves a lot of countries, so perhaps there are “many places” were employers are required to pay striking employees, but I’m a bit skeptical that it’s common, for the obvious reasons.

Last edited 1 month ago by Matt L
it’s not hard to be pro-worker and yet
it’s not hard to be pro-worker and yet
Reply to  David Wallace
1 month ago

David – I think you are operating with an imagined version of the
working class that always wants to go on strike and is always ready to strike. Striking is difficult for individuals, especially teachers (we love our students, love our work, hate making things difficult for our colleagues, are afraid of the uncertainty that comes with striking, etc.). Striking is also difficult for an organization — you have to be organized, and you have to convince your members that a strike is truly necessary. Often, striking is a last resort. The guarantee of pay during a strike will never be the central or sole consideration for a union member’s decision to strike or not. The guarantee of pay is never the sole incentive to settle the strike.

David Wallace
David Wallace

I don’t at all have that picture of the working class, but largely because I’m understanding a strike as a two-way suspension of contract, where you don’t work and you don’t get paid to work. Most people are of course very reluctant to do that. I think things would look radically different if you had a legal right to stop working and still be paid, which is why – pending examples to the contrary – I’m somewhat skeptical that any country has that legal regime.

Nick
Nick
1 month ago

Folks, let’s just step back and think this through, shall we? The actual context here is a 30-year takeover by a bloated administrative class that has (somehow) doubled inflation-adjusted tuition rates while continually imposing austerity measures (BU tuition: $32,466.30 in 1990, $62,360 today… $3 billion in endowment growth over that time).

This same administrative class has been bleating at us for almost two decades now about their committments to equality, to antiracism, to inclusion and to community.

In order to maintain R1/R2 status and run STEM programs, these institutions obviously need PhDs. So they have PhD programs. And many PhD programs actually forbid taking outside work so that the research gets done.

So. In this overall context, to provide anything less than (say) 90% of the actual, real, inflation-adjusted area living wage is absurd. To pay 70 or 60% of the area living wage is to guarantee that only the economically advantaged can do the degree, which maintains the racial imbalances in academia we are repeatedly told we must try to correct through hiring practices. Students of color from families with no generational wealth are not going to encourage their kids to do PhDs in philosophy. Students who now have $50-100k more in student loans than they did in 1990 are not going to roll those dice. There is no racial or economic equality under this model.

Yet now, institutions that have doubled their revenue streams and watched endowments balloon beyond their wildest dreams are refusing to even consider the area-living wage model. This is absurd, and any philosopher who does apologietics for this model needs to remind themselves that their specialization is supposed to be informed critical thinking.

If it is really financially infeasible to pay this area wage, BU, then open the books for us. Let us see where all of this extra revenue is going, let us see where the donations end up, let’s find out whether any of your fat can’t be trimmed. Oh, you’re not going to do that? Right. Of course you’re not.

Kenny Easwaran
Reply to  Nick
1 month ago

Do you know how TA pay in 1990 compared to current TA pay? Has it grown substantially more slowly? If so, then this sounds like a strong argument. If not, then this is less significant as an argument.

Carolyn Dicey Jennings
Carolyn Dicey Jennings
Reply to  Kenny Easwaran
1 month ago

This may be a relevant resource, albeit not on TA pay in particular, which discusses changes since the 1990s in higher education that account for the much higher tuition costs: https://files.eric.ed.gov/fulltext/ED558470.pdf

It puts the blame largely on administrative jobs, but not the ones you might expect: “Growth in administrative jobs was widespread across higher education— but creating new professional positions, rather than executive and managerial positions, is what drove the increas.”

In places like BU graduate assistant numbers have grown and have allowed the university to increase student capacity: “New part-time faculty have effectively replaced additional full-time faculty positions in education sectors with the fewest resources and neediest students; in wealthier educational sectors, however, part-time faculty have provided additional capacity.”

Matt L
Reply to  Nick
1 month ago

BU tuition: $32,466.30 in 1990, $62,360 today

I’d actually seen higher numbers than that for BU tutition today, but assuming that’s right, and using the inflation caculator provided above, BU tutition rose slower than inflation over that period. (The inflation calcualtor suggests it would be $77,085 if it just followed inflation over that time, though of course there are different inflation rates for different sectors, so it might not be a completely accurate picture. It is clear that you can’t make any clear conclusion from just looking at those numbers in the raw, though.)

Jamie Dreier
Jamie Dreier
Reply to  Matt L
1 month ago

No, I’m pretty sure the $32,466 that was charged in 1990, that’s given in 2024 dollars. (The nominal tuition at BU in 1990 was about $14k — that is, 14k 1990 dollars.)
Tuition at private universities and colleges has tended to *far* outstrip inflation. On the other hand, tuition assistance in financial aid has gone up very fast too, so students are on average paying a smaller percentage of the stated tuition than they were in 1990.

Matt L
Reply to  Jamie Dreier
1 month ago

Thanks – yes, if that’s right, it’s a very big change indeed. (And of course it’s right that not close to all students pay the “headline” tuition, though the actual amount paid is not clear enough to me that I’d feel comfortable making any judgment about it. People with better data probably can, though.)

a peculiar institution
a peculiar institution
1 month ago

To repeat some things from elsewhere, these workers are making less than half a living wage for a childless, debtless person in their area (and many of them, I assume, are not childless or debtless). It’s dismaying to see people in our field, some of whom make 4-5 times or more than the strikers, tripping over themselves to not be too incautious in offering their sympathy (or their judgments that the strike is “appropriate”).

A related point: going on strike is very personally risky, even in the best case. For example, as we see here, it involves not being paid. As such, workers typically do not go on strike for fun. They typically have reasons. And yet some people, with a quick google search, some intuitions, some calculations about inflation or cost of living, or whatever else, are more than happy to doubt or ignore these reasons. The psychology of such people puzzles me.

[I’m sorry to post anonymously, but until I can not be on the job market for a while, I don’t feel comfortable doing otherwise.]

Faculty
Faculty
1 month ago

BU posts updates about the strike here: https://www.bu.edu/provost/students/enrollment-student-life/bugwu-information/negotiations-updates/. If you look at the March 5 update, the most recent pay offer was $31,619 per year for humanities grad students. Harvard pays around $50,000 per year (https://www.thecrimson.com/article/2023/12/20/phd-gsas-stipend-increase/#:~:text=students%20in%20Harvard's%20Graduate%20School,announced%20in%20an%20email%20Monday.) and MIT is in the same range.