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Madison Polkowitz / Gavel Media

Graduate Student Union Pickets Pops on the Heights

Approximately 35 members of the Boston College Graduate Employees Union (BCGEU-UAW) picketed outside the Pops on the Heights concert Friday night, hoping to engage with BC alumni, parents, and donors.

The picket lasted from 6:00 to 7:30, with graduate students standing to the right of the main entrance of Conte Forum. They held signs featuring messages such as “Jesus wouldn’t union bust,” and “We all win when we union,” hoping to raise awareness to the fact that Boston College refuses to recognize their union. This is despite the fact that the majority of graduate student workers had voted in favor of the union in 2016.  

BC police and administrators were present for the duration of the event, and at the beginning of the protest told the union they could not hand out fliers, yet picketers continued to hand them out. The fliers explained that protestors support the cause of the event but feel that the university is ignoring Jesuit values in its stance against the union.

“It is not a protest of the event in any sense,” explained David Sessions '22, a graduate student worker who participated in the picket on Friday. “We just have something that we want [people to be aware of].”

Pops on the Heights, now in its twenty-sixth year, is an annual concert with the purpose of raising money for financial aid and student scholarships. Last year the concert raised a record $14 million.

The Pops protest was just one event in a series of ongoing tensions between the graduate student union and BC officials.

Earlier on Friday, members of the BCGEU-UAW attended a presentation in Robsham Theater given by BC President Father William Leahy as part of parent’s weekend.

Graduate students spread throughout the audience stood up in unison during the presentation. Three students near the front shouted “Jesuit values are worker values. Bargain now with the graduate employees union.”

As seen in a video on the official BCGEU-UAW Facebook page, Father Leahy told the protesters to leave and told audience members that graduate students “have no right to be here.”

Prior to the two events on Friday, the BCGEU-UAW sent letters to BC faculty and administration calling on the university to recognize their union. They also spelled out areas where the union felt that BC was failing its graduate student workers: health care, stipends, the grievance procedure for assault and harassment, and parental leave policies.

In response, Provost Dean Quigley released a letter to the BC community on September 25. In it, Quigley affirmed the university’s stance that “graduate student unionization in any form undermines the collegial, mentoring relationship among students and faculty that is a cornerstone of this academic community.” The letter also challenged several union claims made in the original BCGEU-UAW letter.

One point made in Provost Quigley’s letter is that the BCGEU- UAW withdrew their petition to the National Labor Relations Board (NLRB) to become a recognized union, which means that BC isn't legally obligated to provide recognition.

As The Gavel previously reported, the union withdrew their petition as a result of Trump’s influence on the NLRB. In 2016, the NLRB under the Obama administration ruled that graduate student workers are also employees and thus should be allowed to unionize at private universities.

As a result of this ruling, BC graduate student workers held a union election—overseen by the NLRB—in which the majority voted in favor of unionizing.

Following this, BC appealed, and afterwards it became increasingly apparent that the NLRB under the Trump administration would rule in favor of BC. Subsequently, BCGEU-UAW withdrew their petition to avoid losing the legal right to unionize. Losing would also have removed the 2016 precedent that allowed graduate student workers to unionize.

The effect that the Trump administration has had on the BCGEU-UAW was apparent at the Pops on the Heights picket Friday, as signs such as “WE WON’T BE TRUMPED” were displayed.

One additional point of contention between the union and BC is the stipend that graduate student workers receive. According to Provost Quigley, the lowest stipend a graduate student worker can receive is $20,000, which including tuition, remission, and other benefits amounts to $40,000.

The union argues that the $20,000 stipend is insufficient to cover the high cost of living in Boston, and students seeking jobs outside of BC negatively impacts the university. “If we are working two jobs on the side we are not going to have the time we should have to prepare for our lectures or [complete grading].” remarked Sessions. “Two jobs are minimum for some people.”

Although BC continues to maintain that recognizing the graduate union would go against the university’s best interests, Sessions remains hopeful that BC will eventually recognize the union. “I think they already know that they are on the wrong side of history,” he explained. “People know that we aren’t going to quit.”

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