Panel: Lessons Learned: Organizing and Collective Bargaining by Graduate Assistants During the Pandemic

Panel Description

This panel will discuss the findings of Jacob Bennett’s study of graduate student union members who struck at the height of the COVID-19 pandemic. Bennett’s interviews with striking graduate students discussed their prior experiences with labor organizing, their experiences leading up to and during the strike, as well as their reflections on how those experiences related to their senses of dignity in the workplace. Findings of this study provide labor organizers, union members, and labor relations scholars lessons regarding strikes over improved health and safety protections and campus policing reforms. Ben Serber will discuss the study’s findings in relation to the ways pandemic conditions affected graduate worker collective bargaining at Florida State University. Amy Levant will reflect on the unique collective bargaining issues that surfaced during the pandemic from her perspective as an assistant director of labor relations at the University of Illinois at Chicago.  

Panelists Bios

Jacob A. Bennett, M.F.A., Ph.D., studies education law and policy with a critical focus on labor issues. He currently teaches education policy at the University of New Hampshire.

Ben Serber, Higher Education Organizer. Ben Serber was added to the team at North Dakota United in August of 2021 as Higher Education Organizer. Before coming to North Dakota, he was the president of the Florida State University Graduate Assistants United and the lead organizing fellow for United Faculty of Florida. He received a master’s degree in philosophy from the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee in 2015 and is in the process of getting his Ph.D. in philosophy from Florida State University. Ben has been involved in higher education labor activism across the country since starting graduate school in 2013. He’s dedicated to increasing membership and activism on North Dakota’s college and university campuses across the state. His dissertation remains “in progress.” Away from work, Ben said he “enjoys gaming, cooking, watching hockey and unsuccessfully shouting fatherly advice at (his) family’s three cats.”

Amy Levant holds a Bachelor of Arts Degree in Secondary Education from the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign and a Master of Public Administration Degree from the University of Illinois at Chicago (UIC). For more than 20 years, Ms. Levant served as UIC’s Associate Dean of the Graduate College. In 2007, Ms. Levant participated as a member of the University’s Bargaining Team in negotiating the inaugural collective bargaining agreement with the Graduate Student Employees. After retiring from the University in 2010, Ms. Levant returned to UIC as the Assistant Director of Labor and Employee Relations. Since then, Ms. Levant has continued working on graduate employee union issues (including disciplinary matters, interpretation of CBA provisions and collective and impact bargaining) and performs the same for UIC’s two faculty bargaining units: Tenured and Non-Tenured Faculty.

Joseph van der Naald is a Ph.D. candidate in the program in sociology at the CUNY Graduate Center. Joseph’s research is broadly concerned with labor unions, social movements, and sub-national politics and social policy in the United States. His dissertation examines the mechanisms behind the mid-century growth of public-sector unions across states with dissimilar labor laws in the American Midwest. At the National Center for the Study of Collective Bargaining in Higher Education and the Professions, where Joseph is a doctoral researcher, his research with William Herbert focuses on recent trends in student worker unionization. With Herbert and Jacob Apkarian, Joseph coauthored the National Center’s 2020 Supplementary Directory of New Bargaining Agents and Contracts in Institutions of Higher Education, 2013-2019.