ROCHESTER, N.Y. — Like most people, Justin Grossman wants to be paid fairly for his work. But as a grad student at the University of Rochester, he feels this isn’t the case. 

“My department, the history department, we make $22,000 a year and haven’t received an increase to our stipend since 2010," said Grossman. 

Coming out of the pandemic, Grossman found himself in a tough financial situation. He reached out to university leaders to see about options and felt frustrated by their lack of a response. 

“I quickly realized there was no way for grad students to have their problems addressed in a timely way through the current channels," said Grossman. 

That led him to join the movement for grad students to unionize at the U of R.

“There’s a misnomer that because we’re students we don’t have financial responsibilities of life or that someone is supporting us," said Grossman. "But this is our job."

The biggest issue is the push for fair wages. Grad students at the U of R are often told that if they want to meet research expectations, they can’t get a second job. To have the issues addressed, grad students partnered with the Service Employees International Union. 

Halima Aweis is a grad student studying physiology and pharmacology at the U of R. She wanted to form a union after seeing how low wages were affecting her classmates. 

"We saw that about a third of our students have admitted to having to use a pantry or having to rely on support from families because they simply don't make enough to afford simple things like groceries," said Aweis. 

The idea of grad students unionizing isn’t new. Unions have been formed at Syracuse University, Cornell University and Duke University, to name a few. 

U of R grad students are meeting with union representatives to start the formal process and present it to the university.