After learning from my experiences with unforeseen delays (read: code struggles) during last year’s CHI fellowship project, I’ve been developing my project management skills this year: carefully delineating the scope of the final product, mapping the time allocated to each element of the project, and resisting the temptation to add more components when they would significantly increase the workload. In my post introducing my planned project, I defined its goals as follows: 

Accordingly, this project seeks to 1) map the proliferation of graduate unions in the United States, 2) assess how two case studies of justice-focused/abolitionist organizing rhetorically link their demands to “core” union purview (i.e. how do organizers justify demands like implementing expansive disability protections or defunding university police as within the scope of a labor union), then 3) create a speculative map reflecting how members of a union-in-transition imagine the future of their campus and locality. 

Because I had developed a strong workflow for my components of the project and built on existing personal relationships for the collaborative element (the speculative map), I was confident that this project would proceed much less hectically than my previous project, God-Honoring Snark. As you might have guessed from the title, however, things have not gone as planned. After a campus tragedy in mid-February, our local graduate union no longer had capacity to engage in the project partnership, and I’ve needed to adapt the focus of Graduate Labor Rising. While the technical side of the shift has been easier to solve, the transition has raised interesting questions about community-engaged work. Namely, I’ve been thinking through how to create a project that is still helpful to my community—graduate labor unions, in this case—when that community is unable to participate in the process itself. 

The goals of Graduate Labor Rising have been to highlight the organizing strategies used by established graduate unions as they fight to leverage labor power for safer, more just campuses and to provide resources for other unions seeking to do similar organizing work on their own campuses. The speculative map would have been a useful vision-setting process for local union participants as well as a representation of how graduate unions can make the transition from service-model to activist-model organizing, with the bonus of being a fun technical challenge for me as a digital humanist. However, because the map depended on contributions from local members, I couldn’t include it in the project without the union partnership. Instead, I went back to the drawing board and re-thought my deliverables in light of these goals.

While the new version of this project isn’t “community engaged” in the same sense as the original idea, I still wanted to make something useful to my own and other graduate unions. In lieu of the map, I’ve decided to create a searchable text database of collective bargaining agreements, or CBAs, from graduate unions across the country. This updated project component still meets a significant community need. One major hurdle to pursuing justice-focused organizing is establishing contract elements, known as bargaining planks, as bargainable. That is, the union may draft a plank focused on reallocating campus police funding to an unarmed emergency response team, for example, but the university may refuse to bargain over this plank, instead stating that it falls outside the purview of the labor union. By providing examples from ratified contracts that have made gains in similar demands, organizers can make a more compelling argument that these planks are, in fact, bargainable. CBAs are already available through the US Department of Labor and individual union websites, but there isn’t an easily-accessible repository to search language across contracts. Accordingly, the updated Graduate Labor Rising website will still provide a contextualizing narrative of graduate union history and analyze how unions have rhetorically linked abolitionist or justice-based demands to the purview of a union, but it will now provide the searchable text database in lieu of the collaborative, speculative map.

This new project is somewhat less technical than the original plan, but my hope is that this will free up project time to focus on a seamless user experience. Check back in my next post to hear about my decision-making process when choosing how to create the database!