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Boston College's Graduate Student Union Continues to Fight Administration

Graduate student unions exist in colleges all over the country and work to create contracts with their respective institutions to ensure fair working conditions and payment for graduate students. The Boston College Grad Union was formed in 2017, yet Boston College's Administration still refuses to negotiate a contract with them. One of the lead organizers of the Boston College Grad Union, Brahmin Thurber-Carbone, a 2nd year Ph.D. in the physics department, speaks about the Boston College Grad Union's work now and going forward.

Why are you a part of the BC Grad Union?

I don't think that BC treats the grad union as they should. Because they're a religious university, there is legal precedent for them to just ignore unionization. There's a court case that said religious universities are exempt from allowing their students to organize or unionize rather.

Why do you think the BC administration refuses to recognize the union?

Well like I said, there is a legal precedent for them to ignore the union or essentially just deny them anything. Other schools have taken more aggressive approaches. Temple University went on strike, and the university tried to essentially fire every single person that was going on strike. That just made them go even harder, and they were able to sign a contract through that; we're not going to take that approach. The grad student community is very small here; I think there are 1200-1500 grad students, and we have more personal relationships with our PIs (principal investigators), so we can't foresee something like that happening soon.

How does Boston College's administration fare in comparison to the administration of other colleges and universities?

I don't want to say authoritarian, but it's like that; it's very top-down. So there's a pipeline of people that essentially tell us what to do, and there's no direct contact with HR. We don't have an HR department for the grad union, so if we ever have an issue, there's really no one for us to talk to. I don't know who makes the decisions, but we just assume it's Father Leahy and that he tells people to do things, and then those people tell people to do things, and then essentially, down the grapevine, we figure something is going to happen the day it happens. Like last month they increased the minimum stipend to 30k across the board. I didn't know about that; I didn't even know about it until someone from the English department told me that it happened.

In February, you wrote an open letter to the Vice Provost of Boston College, basically asking to be recognized yet again. Can you tell me more about that?

We presented the delegation letter on February 15th to the head of HR and the Vice Provost, and they obviously weren't there, so we just gave it to their office, but we presented the delegation letter, and we were hoping to get a response, and the history behind that is Liz Breadon, she is the city council representative for the Allston Brighton district, met with father Leahy to talk about various things, but she brought up the fact of the university not recognizing the union for so long. Father Leahy told us to write and present a delegation letter to these two people. We did that, and they chose to ignore us as per usual. So he gave us an empty promise, which is very normal for him.

How do you combat this?

That's why we're taking a different approach now because the approach we've been taking is very aggressive, and it just seems like an endless path, it seems like we can keep pushing them, and they'll just keep doing the strategy of ignoring us because that's the most effective strategy. But that's why we're changing our strategy.

How do you see the Graduate Union moving forward when BC keeps stonewalling you?

I think our strategy now is just to build community. I think if we can build a strong community amongst all departments, we will have more power and be able to leverage our power easily. Because now, we're all so busy because the communities are so small that it's very difficult to get people organized.

When you say building community, what specifically do you mean?

This May day we are going to have a picnic, in front of O'Neill library, on the quad. We're going to have a picnic on May 1st, which is international workers' Day. It's going to be kind of like a rally, but it's more going to be focused on being a graduate student-organized event that will hopefully bring the departments together.

* Note that this has now passed.

Is there anything else that you think would be important for us to know about the Graduate Union?

There's a lot of fake news out there about the union, people have misconceptions about what the union is about, and I think if they just realized that the union is run by us, it is us; it's the grad students. It's not an outside organization trying to take control of us. Then they would realize that we're only trying to benefit everyone.

For more information about the Boston College Graduate Student Union, look at their website.

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