Teachers and Researchers United (TRU) is a union of graduate workers (teaching assistants and research assistants) at Johns Hopkins University, organizing to win improvements in our working conditions and to establish a democratic body that will act as a powerful voice for all graduate workers. TRU is all of us.
By bringing together graduate student workers across the university, from the Krieger School of Arts & Sciences to the Bloomberg School of Public Health, and from the Whiting School of Engineering to the School of Education, we have begun building a representative graduate workers’ organization that will take up the wide range of concerns that affect us all. Since the conditions across all of the university’s divisions and departments are unique, we are committed to working to win improvements that benefit all graduates. We believe it is only through collective, democratic, and participatory action that we can achieve our common goals.
Here’s a timeline of TRU’s history! In the fall of 2015, we launched TRU to fight for improvements to graduate students’ health care and for a parental leave policy. Since then we have come a long way. In the last year, TRU has been able to expand our organization to include graduate workers across four major divisions (Krieger, Whiting, Bloomberg, and the School of Education) as supporters!
If you are receiving a paycheck from JHU in exchange for work related to research assistantships or teaching assistantships, you’re a worker and therefore eligible to be part of TRU. Most broadly, this includes anyone who is currently working as a graduate student in one of the four divisions of JHU (KSAS, Whiting, Bloomberg, and School of Ed). We are always bringing on new members to ensure that TRU is advocating for issues that matter most to us, and in ways we collectively decide. As the movement grows, we hope to attain a sizeable majority of graduate workers, in order to make our concerns heard and -- more importantly -- acted upon by the university.
Definitely. Visa requirements in no way compromise your right to join a graduate advocacy group for your U.S. workplace. As international workers enjoy the same legal rights to participate in organizing efforts as U.S. workers, they have participated in organizing graduate unions across the U.S in great numbers, including within TRU already. As is always the case with TRU, we are comprised of the graduate workers of Hopkins: we want to hear your concerns and ideas, in order better to represent and stand in solidarity with you, and you with us.
As a graduate student, you are working. The activities you do that enable the university to function, the research assistantship you fill and contributions you make to your field, the meetings you go to and the training you go through: these make Hopkins your workplace, and you an employee. Teaching in particular is work that many of us do, replacing responsibilities that otherwise have to be done by faculty or post-docs. In these and lots of other services we provide to JHU, we are workers.This is not only true in practice, but also in legal precedent, meaning that grad students have the same workplace rights as anyone else.
Decisions about who does and does not legally count as an employee are made by the National Labor Relations Board, or NLRB. In August 2016, the NLRB recognized grad workers at private colleges and universities as employees. Grad workers at public universities have had this legal status for many years. Since the decision, there has been a flurry of grad organizing across the country, winning improvements to grad healthcare, stipends, workplace protections, and so on. The Trump administration’s new appointees to the NLRB may attack our workplace rights, but grad workers have already seen how much they can accomplish when they stand together.
Grad workers have been organizing at other universities like Columbia, Harvard, Yale, UPenn, Cornell, Princeton, UChicago, Georgetown, Duke, and NYU, just to name a few. A few recent victories have been:
Some major issues that grads across all four JHU divisions have raised are:
We don’t think so. Of course, not all problems affect us all equally: the issues faced by a graduate worker in Chemistry are not always the same as the issues for someone in Art History, or Education, or Biomedical Engineering. But there are fundamental aspects of our lives as graduate workers that we all have in common, and that we can use our collective voice to act on. And then, for those things not in common, we can stand in solidarity with our colleagues to lend our support when they need it.
In this sense, the union should be understood as setting a floor, not a ceiling, on our rights as graduate workers. It is entirely up to TRU members to decide what our contract will be and comes next. To join the effort is to ensure that your voice is a part of this process.
There is no evidence that existing graduate student organizations across the country are negatively correlated with positive relationships between graduate workers and their PIs. To the contrary, a study published by Cornell in 2013 concluded that organized graduate student workers tend to have higher levels of personal and professional support and higher paychecks, with no harm to the faculty-student relation nor to academic freedom. These findings are in-line with previous studies on the topic (Hewitt 2000; Julius and Gumport 2003), which also did not find any evidence on organizing having any harmful consequence on academic freedom and advisor-student relation.
That said, we can make no promise around how your PI/advisor will react. As one of our members put it bluntly,
“Why wouldn’t [the faculty] want to support you and your work?”
One thing we can reasonably say: it seems only logical to conclude that only those members of the faculty who are involved in unfair or abusive relationships with their advisees might feel threatened by more empowered graduate students. Otherwise, TRU is just like any other advocacy group you might be a part of: taking the lives of grad students seriously, pursuing your interests, and connecting you to like-minded people with similar goals about how to make the work and culture around the university better.
Great! We have members in almost every department and division across the university, so there’s probably someone you know who’d be happy to talk more about TRU with you and any of your questions, issues, or concerns. Just email
First, we ask that you sign our Dear Colleagues letter to show solidarity with the rest of your graduate colleagues.
The more of us that are visible, the stronger our union is; join us! We are also working full-time on addressing issues throughout campus, and taht means we need help! Just e-mail