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Madison Polkowitz / Gavel Media

Graduate Union Announces National Effort to Push for Bargaining Rights

Graduate unions from Boston College, Yale University, Columbia University, University of Chicago, and Loyola University of Chicago, joined by the leaders of four major national unions, formed a united coalition on Wednesday that called on their university administrations to recognize the right of graduate student employees to bargain collectively.

Each of the participating unions delivered letters to its respective university president, demanding that its union be recognized and steps are made toward collective bargaining. Administrations at all of the universities have failed to recognize the results of recent democratic elections, in which the majority of graduate student workers voted in favor of union representation.

“On behalf of the growing movement of graduate workers, national graduate worker unions and our 4.4 million members, we urge you to honor the critical work of research and teaching assistants at your university and to respect their democratic decision to unionize,” said the letter delivered to university administrators.

The letters were signed by presidents of several national unions, including Randi Weingarten of the American Federation of Teachers, Mary Kay Henry of the Service Employees International Union, Dennis Williams of United Auto Workers, and D. Taylor of UNITE HERE.

The letter to BC President Fr. William Leahy was also signed by the Organizing Committee of the BC Graduate Employees Union—Union Auto Workers (BCGEU-UAW).

According to precedent set in 2016 by the National Labor Relations Board (NLRB) decision involving Columbia University, graduate student workers are also employees and should be allowed to unionize at private universities.

Following this decision, the BCGEU-UAW won the right to represent graduate workers in an election authorized by the NLRB last September. The election took place despite an appeal from university administrators, who since have refused to recognize the union.

The university’s appeal to the NLRB remained pending until last month, when the BCGEU-UAW withdrew its petition in response to recent decisions made by the NLRB, which has moved in a new direction under the Trump administration.

The letter signed by graduate students and union leaders stated that “since August 2016, in elections involving 18,000 research and teaching assistants at thirteen private universities and colleges, graduate workers have voted by a nearly 60 percent overall margin in favor of unionization.”

Also, the letter explained that while most universities have respected graduate student votes, these five universities—including BC—have not done so.

“Despite clear votes in favor of unionization at your university, you have attempted to silence graduate workers by using the Trump National Labor Relations Board to rig the system against them,” the letter continued. “Your refusal to bargain with a democratically-chosen union both ignores the value of RAs and TAs as workers and contradicts the fundamental values for which your university stands.”

The letter concluded, “We urge you to join other university administrations by changing course and respecting the voice of graduate workers.”