Frequently Asked Questions
TALO is an organization of CS student workers (TAs, Diversity and Inclusion Advocates, and Health and Wellness Advocates) that fights for the well-being of all CS student workers, with the long-term goal of helping all workers on campus. TALO is a democratic, worker-led organization that only exists because CS TAs decided to create it! Together, we are standing up and fighting for a better workplace.
Send a message to talabororg [at] gmail [dot] com or message us on Instagram @talabororg, and a TALO member will reach back out to you. OR, you can talk to another TA and ask if they know someone involved in organizing! If you ask enough TAs, you’ll find someone who knows someone. This is really the best way, because TALO only works because we talk to each other, prioritizing face-to-face communication.
Want to be more involved? TALO has a few committees:
- an Organizing Committee, that leads the work of listening to TAs about working conditions;
- a Comms Committee, that spearheads mass messaging via email and social media;
- an Events Committee, which is just like it sounds; and
- a Bargaining Committee, which leads the work of negotiating our contract (more on that below!)
TALO works because CS TAs talk to each other and have conversations about what it’s like to be a CS TA: the things you like and want to protect, and the things you dislike and want to change.
Organizing is the work of talking to one another in a structured way. If we as CS TAs all stay connected with one another, we have a much stronger chance to affect decisions that impact us as TAs.
TALO holds regular meetings and town halls each semester, but TALO works best when we have 1:1 conversations, where we can better understand the issues that are affecting us as TAs.
Great question! TALO fights for a union contract that applies to all CS TAs who work each semester. But that doesn’t mean you’re automatically a member (or even that you are required to become one). To become a member, sign a digital membership card at this link. After you sign a membership card, a TALO member will reach out to you to have a conversation with you. And if you have questions before becoming a member, contact us at talabororg [at] gmail [dot] com or message us on Instagram @talabororg.
- No. Your work-study allotment, federal or term-time, cannot be affected.
- See more about Columbia University’s student labor union, which includes graduate and undergraduate students. Union representation does not affect students’ work-study status.
TALO is an organization of CS TAs for CS TAs. Since we are a union, Brown is legally obligated to listen to our demands and negotiate a contract with us. If TALO didn’t exist, Brown would make all of the decisions about how the TA program is run. But with TALO, we can have a say at the bargaining table about our pay, work hours and responsibilities, and how our course faculty can treat us.
Without members, TALO doesn’t exist. Without you, we’re just a bunch of CS TAs. But with you, we’re a Union that fights for our collective well-being.
Short Answer: Democracy.
TALO is a democratic organization. Committees do the majority of the organization’s work, and committees are open to all members. Important decisions are made by holding votes among membership and/or committee members. Only members can vote.
Union dues are super important! Because TALO is independent from the University (we don’t get money from SAO!), we need to fund our organization. When we negotiate contracts with Brown admin, we win strong raises. So we take a small percent of that raise, and we pool the money so that we can keep on fighting. We pay a professional staffer to help us out, we get legal support because, to be frank, labor law can be a little complicated, and we also fund perks, like food, swag, and events.
TALO members pay dues that are 1.65% of each paycheck, or about $10 a month, depending on your pay rate and how many hours you log. TAs who are working and choose not to be TALO members pay 1.4%, because it’s only fair that all TAs who benefit from the things we win in our contracts fund organization that fights for those benefits.
If you are a UTA, working ten hours a week on the $20 hourly rate negotiated by TALO (a 30% raise on pre-contract wages, and a 60% raise from the time CS TAs started organizing), it can be assumed that you will earn about $400 every pay period. As a result, the amount you pay in union dues is $6.60, leaving you with $393.40. That’s $83.40 more than you would have had before this current contract was negotiated.
*Note: if you TA for course credit, or are not currently TAing, and do not receive a pay-check, you do not pay dues!
Absolutely! TALO is open to anyone who has been or plans to be a CS TA. You only pay dues during semesters you are actually assigned as a TA to a course. Members who are not currently working as TAs must remain in “Good Standing” by attending a town hall or membership meeting, working on a committee, or having a conversation with an organizer once per semester.
(see more at Student Workers of Columbia)
International students have the same rights as US citizens to participate in union activity. Visa requirements in no way compromise your right to belong to a union that represents you in a US workplace. It is illegal for Brown to retaliate against any worker for protected activity, and union efforts fall into that protected category. Thousands of international student workers across the United States are members of labor unions at colleges like the University of California system, Columbia University, and more, and have been otherwise active in their unions for more than 40 years. The international members of Columbia University’s graduate students’ union even have their own working group! That’s not to mention the international graduate students who are a part of GLO at Brown who haven’t had their visas threatened by the University on the grounds of their union activity.
All student employees, regardless of their immigration status, have the federally-protected rights to 1) engage in activity with their co-workers concerning their working conditions, 2) form a union, and 3) collectively bargain with their universities. It is illegal for an employer to retaliate against any student employees for exercising their rights under the National Labor Relations Act. If anything, international students face particular vulnerabilities that can be best addressed through a union, such as the protections of a grievance procedure.
The U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) cannot ask you questions about your union membership or participation in lawful union activity. In addition, the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) recognized the importance of enforcing labor laws and signed an agreement with the Department of Labor (DOL) that states it is essential to ensure proper wages and working conditions for all covered workers regardless of immigration status. It is your right to belong to a union and being a union member cannot and should not affect your visa application.
Political activities such as picketing, rallies, leafleting, demonstrations, etc., are forms of expression and free association, which are protected for foreigners in the U.S. (including foreign students with visas) as they are for U.S. nationals. It is against the law for your employer (the university) to retaliate against you for participating in these protected activities.
All foreign students enjoy the same rights to freedom of expression and freedom of association as U.S. nationals. Federal law protects your right to join a union. The only relevant restriction on political activity by foreign students is that they cannot make financial contributions to political organizations in the United States.
- There is not currently an avenue for TAs to voice their concerns and represent themselves without facing potential employer backlash or increased tensions in their workplace/within their staff.
- While MTAs do their best to advocate for TAs, they are ultimately a small staff of 2-4 undergraduates themselves, and shouldn’t shoulder the burden of advocating for a large group of diverse TAs.
- There is a breadth of issues that TA workers face, and a union provides workers with the legal means to tackle all the issues they face at the same time, not just issues related to pay.
- While UCS representatives speak frequently with administrators, UCS representatives often do not have any power beyond an advisory role to administrators. Beyond bringing issues up and advocating for them on the committees, UCS cannot compel administrators to do anything. By contrast, a union legally compels administrators to bargain with us.
- While our professors are sometimes sympathetic to our issues, they ultimately do not have enough control over systemic factors to make significant changes to the conditions of our work. But often, they are not sympathetic at all.
No! There is nothing in the structure of a union that prevents union members from talking to their supervisors as they normally would. In fact, it is your supervisors who must understand that they can no longer talk to you with disrespect, gaslight you, ignore your problems, or threaten your job security in any way.
As to the standards of your job, what is defined in the contract is ultimately decided by the workers — so the TAs will get to decide what kind of standards they should be held to!
The idea that a union contract, which is collectively bargained by the workers, will somehow create standards that most workers cannot meet, is absurd and nonsensical.
- The university is able to spend more of its endowment than it currently does on pro-student, pro-worker, pro-community investments.
- Brown’s endowment as of October 2022 was $6.5 billion. This massive sum increased by ~51.5% during 2021, meaning that our endowment returns have been immense. The University CAN afford paying students a living wage AND support financial aid fully at the same time. Don’t let them get away with the myth of scarcity!
- Forming this union will lay the material, organizing, and legal groundwork for expanding unionization across all sectors of workers on campus.
TALO grew out of discussions between CS TAs about our working conditions, and with the CS TA program being the system of undergraduate student employment most familiar to us as well as the largest and most visible TA program at Brown, we decided to start with just CS TAs.
An important part of a unionization effort is defining the “bargaining unit” — a group of employees with a clear and identifiable community of interests — in order to get the union recognized (voluntarily, by the employer, or more commonly, via an election facilitated by the National Labor Relations Board). We believe that the undergraduate TAs employed by the CS department form a bargaining unit on our own, since our community is large and has particular facets to the TA role that are different from other departments. If at this stage we were to declare our bargaining unit to be CS TAs as well as PHYS TAs and NEUR TAs, for instance, Brown would likely challenge our efforts and force us to include all TAs in our bargaining unit. They’d likely say that CS, PHYS, and NEUR TAs aren’t too different from ENGN TAs, or TAPS TAs, or APMA TAs, and so on, so all TAs should be included in the bargaining unit. This would complicate our efforts to organize our workforce because we have limited resources, and ultimately we’re a grassroots campaign led by undergraduate CS TAs
However, forming this union will lay the material, organizing, and legal groundwork for expanding unionization across all sectors of student workers on campus. We can and will share our campaign infrastructure with other undergraduate workers on campus. In the future, we can incorporate other smaller bargaining units of undergraduate TAs (e.g., PHYS TAs) into our bargaining unit, and TALO can grow to become more representative of all undergraduate TAs at Brown.