GSA Votes to Oppose SB-259

Graduate Division

The Graduate Student Association (GSA) has voted to oppose California Senate Bill 259, which would give graduate students the right to unionize if passed.   

Following a lively debate at the May 14 GSA meeting, 78 percent of the 55 graduate students present voted for the GSA to “stand in opposition to SB-259” and to “partner with the University of California Office of the President in letting our opposition to this bill (be made) known to our elected officials.” 

Separate resolutions to either take a neutral stance or to support the bill were voted down.

“It was great to see the GSA efforts open up a dialogue about SB-259, especially since no other UC student groups have come out in opposition to the bill, to my knowledge,” said Rebekah McLaughlin, a PhD candidate in Bioengineering. “I think this was a really important step in calling attention to the fact that graduate students do not unanimously support SB-259.” 

Graduate students in support of the bill, many of whom include social science and nursing students who rely heavily on assistantships as a funding source, argued that standing in opposition to SB-259 would  “stop the conversation before it starts,” noting that SB-259 would merely give graduate students the right to unionize, and that further discussion would follow before actual unionization would be voted on.

“The support of a strong and vocal minority, as well as the Nursing Students’ Council for SB-259, shows that many students continue to believe that graduate students should have the right to choose for themselves whether and how to unionize and that student workers should have equal rights, regardless of the kind of work that they do,” said Quinn Grundy, PhD candidate in Nursing, Health Policy.   

Those opposed to the bill presented concerns regarding potential unionization, stating that it might change the academic relationship between trainer and trainee.  Others mentioned that unionization would result in all graduate students paying dues, whether or not they benefited from the union.  

Some students who voted for the GSA to remain neutral on the issue argued that standing for or against SB-259 as a student body would inevitably exclude much of the student population, those who did not share whichever position was taken. 

In response, those in favor of SB-259 pointed to a recent survey of UCSF graduate students that showed that more than half of those who answered the survey were “strongly against” SB-259.  

In return, others remarked that the survey revealed conflicting sentiments across disciplines, since in programs such as nursing, the majority of those surveyed were “strongly in favor” of SB-259.  It was finally decided that the survey results would be included with the drafted resolution opposing SB-259 that will be sent to officials. 

Students also remarked on the benefits of holding such a debate on this issue. 

“I’m glad students had a chance to discuss this amongst ourselves. These are questions students have to decide on together,” said Katherine Darling, a PhD candidate in Sociology.

“Across the disciplines, I think we all have a lot of questions about the sustainability of current training models and working conditions in academia. Going forward, hopefully we will continue to consider these tough issues.” 

GSA President and PhD candidate in Neuroscience Jason Tien, who presided over the meeting, echoed the sentiment.

“Regardless of the stance that the GSA took,” he said, “the most important thing is that we were able to engage the student body in a constructive way. I think people came away from the process knowing that their voices were heard and respected. As we move forward, we will continue to educate students on how this legislation will affect them.” 

More information on SB-259 can be found on the GSA website at