Thomas Ronan / Gavel Media

Graduate Student Union Lead by State Senator Jamie Eldridge Deliver Petition, Denied Audience with Father Leahy

A delegation of graduate student workers, labor rights activists, and community allies delivered a petition to Boston College President Fr. Leahy’s Office on Friday, seeking an audience with administration officials. The delegation was led by Mass. State Sen. Jamie Eldridge, who represents the Middlesex and Worcester Districts.

As the Gavel previously reported, the BC Graduate Employees Union, partnered with the United Auto Workers (BCGEU-UAW), released a petition in response to administrative warnings against 16 graduate students for their involvement in various protests on campus. Thirteen students were disciplined for participating in the Picket at the Pops, while three were disciplined for standing up during a presentation given by Fr. Leahy during Parent’s Weekend.

According to the Union, the petition received over 3,700 signatures, with over 700 graduate students and 3,000 community members—undergraduate students, alumni, donors, and those who support the graduate students' attempts to unionize—signing the petition.

Prior to the petition delivery, the UAW released a press release on Thursday that explained the motives behind the petition, provided examples of other Boston area universities and Jesuit universities bargaining with graduate student workers, and released a statement from Sen. Eldridge.

The press release also includes the members of the delegation, including labor rights activists such as Robert Bower of Community Labor United, Sarah Kelley of Mass. Interfaith Worker Justice, and John Trumpbour of the Labor and Worklife program at Harvard Law School. The delegation also included social activists such as Sister Tess Browne, S.C.N. (Sister of Charity of Nazareth).

After gathering off campus on Commonwealth Avenue, the delegation proceeded to Father Leahy’s office at approximately 11 a.m. After arriving, Sen. Eldridge and the delegation were greeted by Vice President Kevin Shea.

Sen. Eldridge, a graduate of BC Law, explained to Shea, “One of the main reasons that I came to Boston College was its Jesuit values and Catholic social teachings. I did a lot of advocacy at BC Law, [and] I am very proud of Boston College’s commitment to community… So, I am here to ask Father Leahy as well as the board of trustees to sit down with the Boston College graduate workers, to negotiate fair wages, fair benefits, for people who work very hard for Boston College.”

The senator then presented the petition to Shea, which can be seen in a video of the encounter posted on Eldridge’s Twitter. Shea did not appear to believe the Union’s claims that the petition was signed by over 3,000 members of the Boston College community, repeatedly saying “3,000 BC members?”

After Shea began to say, “Merry Christmas,” and wave goodbye to the delegation, Sen. Eldridge said, “Sir, I’m not done, sir.” Shea replied with a curt, “I’m done,” followed by, “I have received this. I appreciate you coming by. Merry Christmas.” The door was then closed on the delegation.

In the debrief outside of Leahy’s office that immediately followed, Sen. Eldridge and members of the delegation gave speeches.

“I have to say I am incredibly disappointed with Father Leahy and the Boston College administration as represented by the gentleman we just interacted with, because I have to say he was quite rude,” Sen. Eldridge said. “I asked to speak in more detail with him and he was very dismissive.”

Trumpbour, who is currently the research director at the Harvard Law School Labor and Worklife program, knew Fr. Leahy while Leahy was obtaining his PhD at Stanford. “I hope that somehow, maybe in the Christmas season, he can come back and be reacquainted with a lot of the great teachings about the values of workers, of unions, of social solidarities, that’s very much a part of the Catholic tradition,” he said. “I know as having been a teaching fellow myself it is very hard work. I find that almost everybody who does this work puts in an incredible commitment.”  

Sister Tess concluded the debriefing by referencing Fr. Pedro Arrupe, the 28th Superior General of the Society of Jesus. “Throughout his life he was very concerned about social justice, and I think that somewhere along the way I imagine President Leahy must have had some of that training,” she said. “As Superior General, Father Pedro Arrupe really strongly pushed and said that the Jesuits belong on the margins of people who are oppressed.”

The delegation dispersed at 11:45 a.m. and headed to Gasson with the hopes of seeking an audience with the board of trustees, who were present on campus. They did not make it there, however, and were intercepted by Dean Morgan and Campus Police Officers, who asked the delegation to leave.

Although their efforts to engage in a more detailed conversation with Leahy and administration officials did not come to fruition, the Union and their supporters still remain hopeful that the university will eventually recognize their union.

“We may have been turned away today, but we are not getting discouraged. This was one step in this campaign,” explained Bower. “I think that this is really going to show people out there, the public, what we are up against, and the lack of respect for workers here on this campus.”