Questions about the Strike Authorization Vote, & Strikes in general

Why take a strike authorization vote?

What does a yes vote for strike authorization mean?

What is a strike?

How does the strike authorization vote work?

If we vote yes, will we strike immediately?

What happens if we do strike?

I support unionization, but I can’t afford to stop working. What can I do?

How long could a strike last?

Could I be fired or disciplined for joining a strike?

I want to help. What can I do?

Would we go to the classes we are students in while on strike?

Are departments allowed to refuse to hire me in the future if I strike?

What if I’m an international student?

What will happen to students in the courses I teach?

What is a partial strike?

What if I’m an RA?

Will there be a strike training?

What if my striking isn’t noticeable?

If there is a strike, and I am unable to strike, will there be a penalty?

What do I say to my advisor or professor?

What happens if I sign a union authorization card?

What if I don’t sign a union card?

Do I not have to pay dues or any other fees if I don’t sign it?

Questions about the Impact of Unionization & Potential Collective Bargaining Wins

What can we realistically expect from “collective bargaining”?

What have other graduate workers won through collective bargaining?

I heard that the Union would level stipends and bring mine down to those below me. Has that happened at other universities with unions?

What will a union mean for departmental autonomy? Will professors still be able to make decisions regarding what’s best for their department? What sorts of standardization will occur across the departments.

Boston College claims that a union will interfere with the “collegial relationship” graduate employees have with faculty. Is that true? How will unionization affect my relationship with my advisor/PI?

Would unionization prevent me from spending as many hours in the lab as I want? Has that happened at any other universities?

My PI is concerned that the union will make RAs too expensive and it will harm the lab, make our department less competitive, and/or lead to fewer RA positions. Has that happened at other universities?

Funding for my research assistantship comes from a grant, so how could we negotiate over that?

Why is a grievance procedure important and how does it work under a typical Union contract?

With a contract, haven’t we tied our hands if something comes up and we want to make a change?

How can a contract accommodate so many different interests between RAs and TAs across campus?

What will a union mean for the long-term future of Boston College? As graduate students we must be stewards not only for the graduate students who come after us, but for the strength and success of the university as a whole.

How can BCGEU-UAW help STEM students at Boston College?

How can BCGEU-UAW help international students at Boston College?

Will I have to go on strike? The Provost suggests that we might get fined if we do not. Is that true? How would science RAs strike anyway?

What have graduate student employees unions achieved at other universities?

Questions About BCGEU-UAW and Membership Dues

What is BCGEU-UAW?

Didn’t BCGEU win its election? Why did BCGEU revoke its petition with the NLRB?

Is the NLRB the only option?

Why the UAW?

What does having a union mean?

Which workers would be represented by BCGEU-UAW?

What are the rights of international students to participate in the union?

What does signing an authorization card mean?

How much are membership dues and when do we start paying?

How is the dues money allocated? What is it used for?

I heard the UAW uses membership dues money to engage in political action. How has that benefited graduate student workers in the UAW?

How is a union different from the Graduate Student Association (GSA)?

But I feel like my life is pretty good.

~Questions about the Strike Authorization Vote, & Strikes in general~

Why take a strike authorization vote?

For more than two years, the BC administration has repeatedly ignored majority support for BCGEU-UAW and has refused to bargain with our union.

  • In spring 2017, a majority of RAs and TAs originally signed cards in favor of unionization.
  • In September 2017, we voted 270 to 224 in favor of BCGEU-UAW as our union. BC appealed asked the National Labor Relations Board (NLRB) to overturn the result, claiming we are not workers.
  • Later in the fall of 2017, over 400 graduate workers signed a petition calling on BC to drop their appeal and bargain a contract.
  • In February of 2018, to protect grad worker rights across the US, we withdrew from the NLRB process, but continued to organize for BC to recognize our union
  • In March 2018 hundreds of graduate workers and allies joined the March Against Injustice on campus, calling on BC to recognize the union and bargain.
  • In September 2018, graduate workers protested at a speech by Father Leahy and passed out flyers outside the Pops on the Heights fundraising concert. In retaliation, BC imposed academic discipline on 16 of the participants.
  • In December 2018 over 450 graduate workers and 3000 community supporters signed on to a petition calling on BC to drop the discipline and bargain with the union. BC threatened more discipline if graduate workers delivered the petition, but a community delegation of labor and religious leaders, led by State Senator (and BC Law alum) Jamie Eldridge delivered the petition in person, only to have the door literally closed in their faces.
  • In spring and summer 2019, over 500 graduate workers (more than the total who had voted in our election) signed on to an open letter to the BC administration, stating some of the challenges BC graduate workers face and calling on BC to bargain with the union. We delivered the letter on the two year anniversary of our NLRB union vote.
  • In June 2019, the Boston City Council held a hearing on the state of student worker rights in Boston. Hundreds of graduate workers and allies attended, and many testified to the Committee on Jobs, Wages, and Workforce Development. BC administrators, though invited, refused to participate.

Instead of respecting the democratic will of the majority, as administrators at Georgetown, NYU, The New School, Harvard, Columbia and at least 5 other private universities have done, the BC administration continued to ignore our right to a union by refusing to bargain.

The intransigence of our administration has gone on far too long. Having tried many alternatives for the last two and a half years, electing a Bargaining Committee and holding a strike authorization vote are the logical next steps in our ongoing campaign to move the administration to stop the delays and negotiate a fair contract.

What does a yes vote for strike authorization mean?

It means that you are voting in favor of our elected graduate worker Bargaining Committee having the authority to call a strike, if a strike is deemed as a necessary step in bringing Boston College to the bargaining table. While none of us want a strike – we want to bargain! – having the authority to call a strike gives us more leverage to compel the university administration to negotiate.

What is a strike?

A strike is a coordinated stoppage of work aimed at convincing an employer to meet employee demands. In our case, TAs, RAs, and other graduate workers would stop our paid work for BC (e.g., grading, research, teaching, etc) in order to send a message to the administration to recognize our union and start bargaining. Our elected Bargaining Committee would only call a strike after a democratic vote authorizing them to call such a strike (the strike authorization vote) and only when it made sense strategically.

How does the strike authorization vote work?

Voting will take place by secret ballot. If two-thirds of the votes are in favor, it would authorize the Bargaining Committee to call a strike when they deemed it necessary and strategically wise.

Eligible voters would be Boston College graduate students who have signed a BCGEU-UAW authorization card and are currently employed by the university, previously employed by the university, or expect to be employed by the university in a graduate position (i.e. Teaching Assistants, Teaching Fellows, Graduate Assistants, etc.) as part of their program. If you meet the above criteria and have not signed up for the Union during the Spring 2020 semester, you would be able to do so at the polls in order to vote, or by contacting bcgradunion@gmail.com to meet up with an organizer.

If we vote yes, will we strike immediately?

A strike authorization vote authorizes the union Bargaining Committee to call a strike if they deem it necessary, but it does not mean we would strike right away. Typically, we would give some time for the university to agree to our demand (in this case, commit to start bargaining) before actually striking so the administration would have an opportunity to avert a strike and the disruption it would cause to campus activities and services. During this time the Bargaining and Organizing Committees would discuss the practicalities of a strike with BC graduate workers in every department to determine the best course of action.

What happens if we do strike?

We would stop our work and also engage in organized picketing — protesting at various locations around the campuses in order to make our action visible and effective. Additionally, we could ask that other unionized workers who are able to refuse to work with the school; for example, delivery drivers might refuse to cross our picket lines to bring packages to campus.

I support unionization, but I can’t afford to stop working. What can I do?

The decision to participate in a strike is a big one. In the event of a strike that lasts more than seven days, all striking workers would be eligible to receive strike pay from the United Auto Workers (the national union we are affiliated with) Strike and Defense Fund of up to $275 per week for the duration of the strike. We could also raise money independently for those who would face extreme hardship in a strike (e.g. those with families). Voting “yes” for strike authorization is still important to ensure that the Bargaining Committee has the democratic authority from BCGEU members to call a strike if necessary.

How long could a strike last?

We would hope that the administration would agree to our demands in order to avert a strike. However, if we do have to strike, the goal of it would be to demonstrate how indispensable student workers are. If the administration were to remain intransigent a strike could go on for some time, but with a strategically timed strike we hope that time on the picket line would be kept to a minimum.

Could I be fired or disciplined for joining a strike?

The law protects our right to strike. Since the 1970s, thousands and thousands of RAs and TAs across the US – including just this past December at Harvard – have engaged in lawful strike activity without being fired. Beyond these legal protections, mass participation is our best protection since it makes it difficult to single out anyone, whether for firing or for discipline, even if Boston College did choose to engage in such an extreme action. If at any time you feel that the university, through an administrator, a part of BC’s staff, a faculty member, or otherwise, is retaliating against you for any of your involvement in the union, you should contact us immediately at bcgradunion@gmail.com.

I want to help. What can I do?

Email us at bcgradunion@gmail.com and a BCGEU-UAW organizer will reach out to talk more about how specifically you can get involved.

Would we go to the classes we are students in while on strike?

You would not have legal or academic protection if you refuse to go to your own classes. Graduate workers would still complete their academic responsibilities as students, while withholding labor as workers.

Are departments allowed to refuse to hire me in the future if I strike?

The law protects our right to strike and makes it illegal for Boston College to retaliate against us for protected activity. Thousands of RAs and TAs have gone on strike across the US and have avoided this problem. Again, mass participation is our best protection against BC even contemplating this kind of extreme action. Boston College depends on our labor to function – and the more of us who participate, the stronger our strike and the more we can support and protect each other. If at any time you feel that the university, through an administrator, a part of BC’s staff, a faculty member, or otherwise, is retaliating against you for any of your involvement in the union, you should contact us immediately at bcgradunion@gmail.com.

What if I’m an international student?

University administrations’ anti-strike campaigns often target international students because their visa status makes them more vulnerable. You should know that international students have the same rights as US citizens to participate in union activity. It is illegal for Boston College to retaliate for protected activity. Thousands of international student workers across the United States have struck and been otherwise active in their unions for more than 40 years. If at any time you feel that the university, through an administrator, a part of BC’s staff, a faculty member, or otherwise, is retaliating against you for any of your involvement in the union, you should contact us immediately at bcgradunion@gmail.com.

You can read about federally protected rights for international workers, including the right to form and join unions and to take action to improve their workplaces here. Versions in other languages are also available at this website.

What will happen to students in the courses I teach?

We would strive to educate students in advance of the strike so that they understand that it is growing out of Boston College’s multi-year refusal to recognize our democratic rights. We would encourage them to contact the administration and resolve the strike before it even happens so their education is not disrupted. The impact of an actual strike depends on many factors: length of strike, time of the year, your duties, etc.

What is a partial strike?

A partial strike consists of you doing part of your TA/RAship work and striking on the other portions. For example, holding off-campus sessions for your students during a strike period could be regarded as a partial strike of your TAship. Partial strikes are unprotected by labor law.

What if I’m an RA?

Work/research that is absolutely necessary for your dissertation progress is academic work that you may continue. We want to be sure that any action allows the maximum number of people to participate with maximum impact on Boston College. The overall goal here is to strike our paid work to pressure BC to bargain, not refuse to perform academic work. Conversely some grad workers will have to complete the bare minimum necessary to maintain their own research (e.g. tending to animals or live cultures) while refraining from other lab work.

Will there be strike trainings?

Yes – before any strike we will schedule trainings so that we can learn from experienced strikers about how a strike can be most effective and how we can maintain high participation levels.

What if my striking isn’t noticeable?

We need you on the picket line! The bigger our picket line, the bigger the disruption. Having a whole department show up at the strike is important for visibility, and you can help get more publicity to the strike. Every person’s involvement is crucial to an effective strike.

If there is a strike, and I am unable to strike, will there be a penalty?

Strikes are more effective when there is large participation, but it is an individual choice to participate. Our union will not penalize members who do not participate in a strike.

What do I say to my advisor or professor?

You are not obligated to tell anyone about the strike, but you can and should talk to them if possible. Ideally, we want them to tell the administration to bargain so that the strike can be avoided.

What happens if I sign a union authorization card?

Authorization cards are a commitment to participate in the process, it does not include any fees nor other legal requirements. No one pays dues until we have ratified a first contract. You can sign a card at any time.

What if I don’t sign a union card?

Choosing to not sign a card means you do not want to participate in the democratic union decision making here at Boston College for our working conditions. This will mean you do not want to vote in the various decisions we have to make, including the ratification of our first contract.

Do I not have to pay dues or any other fees if I don’t sign it?

Authorization cards have no impact on dues or agency fees. Once we vote to accept our contract, we will sign membership cards (likely with dues checkoff to have dues automatically deducted from our pay).

~Answers about the Impact of Unionization & Potential Collective Bargaining Wins~

What can we realistically expect from “collective bargaining”?

To get a sense what to realistically expect from a collectively bargained contract, agreed to by both BC graduate employees and the BC administration, we can look to what has happened at other universities. Graduate employee union contracts have included increased stipends, expanded health benefits, improved rights for international graduate students, protections against discrimination, a fair process for resolving grievances, and more. You can see many specific examples here.

We can also see what has NOT happened – masters programs have not been closed down, the number of graduate students have not been reduced. Improved working conditions, higher stipends, better benefits, these all would make BC a more attractive place to be a graduate student and make the BC graduate programs stronger. This is why many other universities, have already agreed to respect the democratic voice of their graduate employees and negotiate. This includes other private religious universities similar to BC (Loyola, Georgetown, Fordham).

The majority of graduate employees have signed on in support of the union to build a better Boston College, for ourselves and for future students.

What have other graduate workers won through collective bargaining?

  • Contractually-guaranteed annual across-the-board stipend increases and timely payments.
  • Enhanced dental, vision, and mental health insurance (including lower co-pays for services and prescriptions).
  • Improved family benefits, such as dependent health coverage, childcare subsidies and paid maternity leave.
  • Workload protections that enhance the quality of education.
  • Vacation and sick leave for research assistants.
  • Subsidized public transportation services.
  • Protections against discriminatory practices, sexual harassment and assault.
  • Improved disability access and resources for people of color.
  • Establishment of a fair and transparent grievance procedure.

I heard that the Union would level stipends and bring mine down to those below me. Has that happened at other universities with unions?

No. Collective bargaining has not produced that result at other universities.

At the University of Washington a variable pay system existed before the contract and continues under the contract. Under that system, there are minimum pay rates that all departments must follow, but departments are free to pay higher rates. Graduate workers at UW democratically chose to preserve that system, and, while those at the lower pay rates have experienced larger increases, everyone’s pay has gone up after unionization.

In another example, under the first contract at NYU, the minimum stipends for the poorest-paid workers went up 38% over 4 years, while the small number of people above the minimum got at least a 15% raise over 4 years. Again, no one took a pay cut. In the second contract at NYU, the lowest paid workers at NYU Poly received signing bonuses of up to $1,500 and will see their hourly wage double (from $10 to $20 per hour) over the life of the contract, while the highest paid PhD workers received signing bonuses of up to $750 and will see their total compensation increase by roughly 13 percent.

A slightly different example is UConn, where graduate assistants had the same pay rates before unionization and the contract raised all those by 3% per year (in addition to significant increases in fee waivers that are worth an additional 3.2-7.6 percent wage increase, depending on FTE and academic standing). The contract also ensures additional step increases based on academic progress.

In all cases, these guaranteed gains were larger than the small percentage in membership dues, which is why these contracts were overwhelmingly ratified.

Feel free to read summaries of the before and after effects of collective bargaining at these and various other universities on the BCGEU-UAW website.

At Boston College, we will decide what to bargain for and we will determine our own fates collectively with the ratification of our contract. In hundreds of conversations across campus over the last two years, no one has said the Union should propose leveling pay or that anyone should take a pay cut, so we can rest assured pay leveling will not be a union proposal.

What will a union mean for departmental autonomy? Will professors still be able to make decisions regarding what’s best for their department? What sorts of standardization will occur across the departments.

A union contract will mean that graduate students will have a real voice in institutional decisions that affect our working conditions. Currently there are many university-wide policies that affect all graduate students (for example, health care coverage), and with a contract we’ll be able to modify and improve these policies as well as to preserve the policies that work well. But as graduate students we also know that the diversity in our departments exists and we can shape policies to take that into account.

Most importantly, with a union, we will have a fair say in any changes that affect us as graduate workers. As research and teaching assistants we know better than anyone how both university-wide and departmental decisions affect us. A union gives us a democratic voice in our workplace and a way to enact positive change through negotiations with the university. We hope that BC will follow the example of other institutions in stopping their efforts to prevent a union, and instead allow us to express our democratic voice in the election and commit to negotiate fairly with us once the election is over.

Boston College claims that a union will interfere with the “collegial relationship” graduate employees have with faculty. Is that true? How will unionization affect my relationship with my advisor/PI?

No. In their efforts to convince us to vote no, the University continues to raise fears about this even though there is no evidence that graduate workers’ unions negatively affect their relationship with faculty.

In fact, the only peer-reviewed study of the question found that “union-represented graduate student employees report higher levels of personal and professional support, unionized graduate student employees fare better on pay, and unionized and nonunionized students report similar perceptions of academic freedom.”

BCGEU-UAW members see our union as a way to address issues related to our employment directly with our employer–Boston College–thus freeing us to have an academic relationship with our advisors, PIs, and other faculty.

Would unionization prevent me from spending as many hours in the lab as I want? Has that happened at any other universities?

No. Collective bargaining has not produced that result at other universities where RAs have collective bargaining. If you look at two current UAW contracts that include RAS, you can see in both cases that the workload language does not have the effect of preventing one from spending hours in the lab.

Instead, because collective bargaining is a democratic, nuanced and participatory process, the unions at UW and UConn have negotiated provisions that empower individuals to choose to address a work-load problem, while simultaneously allowing those of us, like RAs doing paid “work” that helps our dissertation, the freedom to choose to spend as many hours in the lab as desired.

Put another way, the provisions of a contract would be negotiated between the university and the union. The university has no incentive to propose an hours-capping provision, since it benefits from the research labs produce. The union would have no reason to add such a provision, unless its member RAs made clear they wanted one, through bargaining surveys and other democratic channels. That seems unlikely – to put it mildly. Thus, it is hard to imagine anybody at the table making such a proposal, and even harder to imagine grad workers voting to ratify a contract that included it.

My PI is concerned that the union will make RAs too expensive and it will harm the lab, make our department less competitive, and/or lead to fewer RA positions. Has that happened at other universities?

No. There is no evidence of collective bargaining having any of these effects. Both the union membership and the administration have to agree on a contract and neither party would want that result. Collective bargaining simply means we can negotiate as equals in order to hold Boston College more accountable to do the best it can do.

As an example of how this plays out, in the first contract for postdocs at the University of California, the union negotiated significant pay increases, and the union and the university agreed to a phase-in process so that PIs would have the ability to accommodate the improvements without disrupting current research. Before collective bargaining, the University decided such things unilaterally, and some postdocs made as little as $18,000 per year even though UC had a “policy” stipulating that the minimum postdoc salary should have been $37,000.

Empirically, the overall number of RAs (and TAs) has grown at the University of Washington since unionization in 2004, as has the number of postdocs at the University of California since unionization in 2008. Overall grant revenue has also increased at UW and UC over those years, showing that these institutions remain competitive in recruiting top talent to their research programs.

Funding for my research assistantship comes from a grant, so how could we negotiate over that?

Currently, Boston College determines RA pay rates unilaterally, and those rates – as well as projected increases – are factored into grant proposals to agencies like NIH, NSF, DOD, etc. With collective bargaining, we would negotiate as equals with Boston College for improvements to our pay rates. Grant-funded RAs at UMASS and the University of Washington, as well as postdocs at the University of California, have negotiated guaranteed annual increases to their pay rates through collective bargaining.

Why is a grievance procedure important and how does it work under a typical Union contract?

Union contracts typically include a grievance procedure, which provides due process to a member (or the union as an organization) if a problem arises during the contract or the administration is not fairly adhering to the contract. Though many grievances are resolved quickly and informally, most contracts allow for unresolved grievances to be taken to an outside neutral arbitrator whose decision is legally binding.

For example, GSOC at NYU just won an arbitration case involving NYU’s wrongful denial of tuition remission benefits to workers in the School of Education and the School of Social Work. Affected graduate workers will receive a refund of approximately $1500/semester for each semester they were affected.

For more examples of how a fair and effective grievance procedure can work, you can check out highlights of how graduate employees at the University of Washington have successfully enforced their rights under the Union contract on issues ranging from pregnancy discrimination and tuition/fee waivers to payment and health and safety issues.

With a contract, haven’t we tied our hands if something comes up and we want to make a change?

The fact is our hands are tied now. We don’t have the power to make changes in our working conditions, now. We aren’t even empowered to negotiate with the Administration. The Administration has made changes in the past that haven’t been to our benefit, like changing the dental benefits. With a contract, their hands are tied. They can’t make changes without negotiating with us.

The contract can always be “re-opened” or renegotiated if both parties (the Union and the Administration) are in agreement to do so. Additionally, if new programs or new positions are created that weren’t contemplated by the contract, the Administration has a legal obligation to bargain the terms of employment for the new workers with the Union.

Furthermore, if this is a concern going into bargaining and a priority, we can negotiate for the ability to bargain during the life of the contract for things that are not addressed in the contract.

We also asked other grad employee unions (University of Washington and University of Massachusetts), and they have told us that this has never been a problem.

How can a contract accommodate so many different interests between RAs and TAs across campus?

Many graduate employee unions cover grad workers with diverse interests. At the University of Washington, University of Connecticut, University of Massachusetts, and New York University, RAs and TAs have negotiated strong contracts together that address issues that affect everyone, such as health, dental and vision benefits, guaranteed annual pay increases, sick leave and family benefits, while simultaneously including provisions important to particular groups.

At UW, for example, TAs tend to get time off during academic break periods by default, but winning guaranteed vacation time was a huge priority for many RAs (while many had PIs who would allow time off, others had PIs who would not, and who did or didn’t get vacation was totally arbitrary). The contract now guarantees all RAs the right to at least four weeks of paid time off with no work expectations per year. Other examples include holidays, health and safety, parking and transit, travel, and teaching loads. In many cases TAs were able to secure fair and predictable teaching loads – even though that was less of a priority for RAs.

What will a union mean for the long-term future of Boston College? As graduate students we must be stewards not only for the graduate students who come after us, but for the strength and success of the university as a whole.

Graduate student unions have existed at other universities for decades and their institutions continue to thrive. Our union will be part of that! It is absolutely true that the strength and success of the university benefits all alumni of BC. This is exactly why we have decided to join together and form a union. By having a seat at the table in determining our working conditions as graduate employees we can ensure that our values, needs, and concerns help shape the decisions BC administrators make. We all have the same goal – be successful in our scholarship, be healthy, and help BC succeed. A union will enable us to do just that.

How can BCGEU-UAW help STEM students at Boston College?

As a leading union for more than 60,000 academic workers across the US, the UAW has become a progressive leader advocating for federal investment in STEM research. A few years ago, the postdoc union at the University of California (UAW Local 5810) and the graduate worker union at the University of Washington (UAW Local 4121), in conjunction with the UAW nationally, organized a major “Save Science Funding” campaign, which involved emails and meetings with Congressional representatives in WA and CA, leading to a letter spearheaded by US Representatives George Miller (CA) and Jim McDermott (WA) urging Congressional leadership to preserve funding for research. Following their example, graduate student employees at Columbia started organizing the www.stemfunding.org campaign, and obviously might have been more successful if HRC was elected, since she had already set a goal of investing $2 billion in Alzheimer’s research. By joining the UAW, graduate student employees at Boston College will add our voice and collective power to continue advocating and lobbying for continued science funding.

How can BCGEU-UAW help international students at Boston College?

As members of the UAW, graduate students at BC have joined with over 50,000 academic workers who are continuing to use the enhanced political voice with the UAW to create changes beyond Boston College. The UAW advocates for expanded opportunities for international students to work in the US after graduation. The UAW has actively supported, “expanded opportunities for an expanded pathway to citizenship for international academic workers in the US and their families.”  More specifically, the UAW and many local unions, as well as other organizations, advocated successfully last year to strengthen and expand the Optional Practical Training (OPT) program, one of the few existing options for international students to work in the US after graduation.  The UAW also continues to advocate for “unlimited employment-based green cards” for international graduates of US universities.

Will I have to go on strike? The Provost suggests that we might get fined if we do not. Is that true? How would science RAs strike anyway?

We decide if a strike is a necessary action to take. Under the UAW, 2/3 of those participating in a strike authorization vote must vote yes in order to authorize the Union to call a strike. While a strike is most effective if we all participate, it is an individual decision whether or not to participate.Striking is a last resort as a tactic and is rare. 98% of union contracts are reached without a strike.

Second, there are alternatives to striking as a way to achieve bargaining objectives. For example, at the University of Connecticut, where state law prohibits striking in the public sector, graduate assistants organized and started a two-day sit-in toward the end of contract negotiations in 2015. On the evening of the first day of the sit-in reached a tentative agreement for a great first contract.

As for science RAs and strikes, at the University of Washington RAs have fortunately not had to strike since formation of the union in 2004, but have started preparations for a strike several times in order to achieve a fair contract. In the process of preparing for a possible strike, RAs engaged in a process to figure out how to participate in a strike without damaging their own academic progress.
If we were to contemplate – together, democratically – a strike here at Boston College, we would obviously have to sort through that set of issues as well.

What have graduate student employees unions achieved at other universities?

  • This year, GSOC-UAW at NYU won pay increases such that a PhD working as a TA makes around $37,000 per year, medical coverage assistance for up to $4,300 for dependent spouses and $3,700 for children, and a child-care fund that begins at $60,000 starting Jan 1, 2016 and increasing $10,000 each calendar year up to $100,000.
  • After an eight day strike in 2014, the University of Oregon Graduate Teaching Fellows won a 10% wage increase, two weeks of paid family or medical leave, and a $150,000 ‘hardship fund’ from which students can receive grants for family and medical purposes.
  • Graduate workers at the University of Washington won nearly a 40% increase to minimum stipends in their 2012 contract, and have secured health care with no cuts since 2004.
  • Since its founding in 2007, Graduate Students United at the University of Chicago have campaigned for and won a doubling of teaching assistant salaries, better standards of care at the Student Care Center, and the right for students on parental leave to retain their student status, allowing the retention of visa status, health insurance, and access to university facilities.

    The UAW has a very strong track record in the Northeast, with nearly 10,000 academic workers choosing UAW representation in the last four years alone. See details below for the results.

    2013: GOSC/UAW at NYU/Poly- 98% Yes Votes
    2014: GEU/UAW at UConn- 70% Yes Votes
    2015: BCF/UAW at Barnard- 91% Yes Votes
    2015: ACT/UAW at NYU Poly- 89% Yes Votes
    2016: GWC/UAW at Columbia- 72% Yes Votes
    2017: SENS/UAW at New School- 99.6% Yes Votes
    2018: HGSU/UAW at Harvard- 56% Yes Votes

~Answers about BCGEU-UAW and Membership Dues~

What is BCGEU-UAW?

Boston College Graduate Employee Union – United Auto Workers is a democratically elected organization of graduate workers joining together to build power, create a democratic workplace, and negotiate to improve our working conditions and secure those conditions in a binding contract that cannot be unilaterally changed by the university.

  • We will determine democratically our priorities and leaders.
  • We will elect a bargaining committee from among our grad worker community. 
  • We will fill out bargaining surveys to tell the elected bargaining committee what matters to us.
  • We will vote to ratify an initial bargaining agenda the elected committee develops based on our survey feedback.
  • When our elected bargaining committee reaches a ‘tentative agreement’ with Boston College, we will vote whether to approve that agreement as our first contract.
  • If we ratify the contract, we will then elect leaders to run our union and to help ensure that our contract is enforced.

Didn’t BCGEU win its election? Why did BCGEU revoke its petition with the NLRB?

Yes! The National Labor Relations Board oversaw our election in September 2017 and a majority of graduate workers voted in favor as BCGEU as our union. Shortly after, the NLRB certified our union, and Boston College agreed the results were fair.

However, we made the difficult decision to revoke our petition with the NLRB. Despite our majority vote, Boston College appealed the NLRB’s 2016 Columbia decision which reinstated the rights of grad workers at private universities to form a union. It also appealed the 2014 Pacific Lutheran decision which states that contingent faculty not performing religious functions at religious universities are covered under NLRB jurisdiction. Since the election of President Trump, the NLRB has issued decisions that make clear it is a partisan vehicle for limiting workers’ rights. We will not allow Boston College to use an anti-labor NLRB to take away our election and to overturn laws that protect workers’ rights at academic and religious institutions across the country. Because the Boston College administration insists on playing politics rather than upholding Catholic values that support workers rights, we have withdrawn our petition from the NLRB and instead ask Boston College to voluntarily recognize our majority without the NLRB.

Is the NLRB the only option?

No. Boston College can choose to voluntarily recognize our union, just as New York University has done. In exchange for withdrawing a petition before the NLRB, graduates at New York University, a private institution, received voluntary recognition of their union from the NYU administration. In their December 2013 vote, 98.4% of NYU graduates’ ballots cast were in favor of a union. Although the university was not required by law to recognize the union and negotiate a contract, the administration chose to do so.

More recently, Georgetown, a fellow Jesuit university, and Brown University, have come to agreements with graduate unions on their campuses to voluntarily recognize the unions should they win an election. It is clear that more universities are moving to work together with graduate employee unions, and we continue to fight to get Boston College to join their peers.

Why the UAW?

Usually graduate workers choose to organize with a larger labor union such as the United Automobile Workers (UAW), which began as an auto workers union in the 1930s but now also represents workers in service industries, non-profits, and university positions such as staff and research and teaching assistants. The UAW now represents more than 50,000 academic workers across the US, including more graduate workers than any other union. By organizing with a union like the UAW (which represents organized students at NYU as well as the Universities of Massachusetts, California, Washington, and Connecticut) grad workers join our power with hundreds of thousands of other members across the county, and gain access to extended resources and opportunities. These often include access to labor lawyers, and professional training to help ensure we have the strongest union and best contract possible.

What does having a union mean?

Voice. Unions give graduate workers real and meaningful voice in how the university operates. In an era of increasing academic corporatization and reliance on contingent researchers and teachers over tenured faculty, graduate worker unions give us a powerful voice in determining the future of our working conditions as well as the shape of the university as important institutions in our society.

Security. Graduate workers are particularly vulnerable, and unions provide a safety net to prevent grads from falling through the cracks of funding and bureaucracy.

Community. By organizing, we join tens of thousands of graduate workers, postdoctoral researchers and adjuncts working to improve the academic workforce. Our union here at BC aims to build relationships across disciplines and departments premised on the foundation of grads supporting grads.

Power. Without collective bargaining, BC decides our conditions unilaterally. With collective bargaining, we can negotiate as equals, use our voice to change the direction of BC, and ensure graduate employees’ contribution to the success of the University is compensated and respected.

Which workers would be represented by BCGEU-UAW?

We are seeking to represent any graduate student workers doing teaching or research work, on all BC campuses. When the regional NLRB determined who would be covered by a Union in 2002 at Columbia University, for example, it included TAs and RAs all across campuses.

What are the rights of international students to participate in the union?

Because they have the same legal right to join a union as US citizens, international graduate student workers have played a central role in organizing and running unions at more than 60 university campuses across the US. Visa requirements in no way compromise your right to belong to a union that represents you in a US workplace. No graduate student worker union has reported any complications among their members arising from the dual status of being both an international student and a unionized employee.

You can read about federally protected rights for international workers, including the right to form and join unions and to take action to improve their workplaces here. Versions in other languages are also available at this website.

 

What does signing an authorization card mean?

Signing a card means that graduate workers at Boston College want a union and are officially joining Boston College Graduate Employee Union-United Auto Workers (BCGEU-UAW). Collecting authorization cards are a necessary step to gain official recognition of BCGEU-UAW.
If you graduate or leave Boston College, you will no longer be a member of BCGEU-UAW.

How much are membership dues and when do we start paying?

Dues are an important source of resources that help us have an effective relationship with the University. However, we control when we start paying membership dues and will not pay any dues or fees until we have voted to approve the first contract. Dues from UAW workers across the country help to provide the resources for organizing campaigns such as ours. Dues in UAW are currently 1.44% of gross income and would only apply during times that you are working in a position covered by the Union.

How is the dues money allocated? What is it used for?

Dues cover all of the day to day cost of having a strong union, including paying for the best legal representation (such as that utilized in the NLRB case), staffing, rent, equipment, and supplies. Dues also pay for the following:

Technical support for contract negotiations:

  • Health insurance experts who can take on the University’s consultants in order to pursue the best benefits for the best price.
  • Researchers who can help analyze University finances. Legal advice where necessary.
  • Experienced negotiators to help achieve our goals in bargaining, both at the bargaining table and in terms of developing an overall contract campaign.

Support for new organizing campaigns (for example, the organizing staff and legal support for the BCGEU-UAW campaign is paid for by existing UAW members’ dues money)

Political action: 3 percent of dues money goes toward the UAW Community Action Program (CAP), which supports progressive community and political action, including legislative and other policy advocacy on issues that matter to UAW members – for example, the UAW advocates strongly for fair, comprehensive immigration reform and expanded federal support for research funding, among other topics. [NOTE: legally, dues money cannot be used for federal campaign contributions, such as the presidential race—that money comes from members’ voluntary contributions separate from, and in addition to, dues.]

Most of the day-to-day work enforcing the contract and representing our membership is provided by the local union. The rest of the dues is allocated to the International Union (18%) and the Strike and Defense Fund (32%). Depending on the overall financial health of the Strike and Defense Fund, both the Local and the International Union receive an additional allocation of dues called a “rebate”.

I heard the UAW uses membership dues money to engage in political action. How has that benefited graduate student workers in the UAW?

A very small amount, 3% overall, of membership dues money goes toward political action, but it enables a powerful voice on issues that matter to us, and especially so under the current presidential administration. In fact, as a leading union for more than 65,000 academic workers across the US, the UAW has become a progressive leader advocating for federal investment in STEM research, expanded opportunities for international students to work in the US after graduation, and gender equity in the academic workforce, all of which enhance accessibility and innovation at our universities.

How is a union different from the Graduate Student Association (GSA)?

The graduate student council exists to fund student groups, award grants, sponsor student life, and have regular meetings with university administrators. Though the GSA can communicate concerns to the administration, it has no power to negotiate a binding contract on behalf of graduate workers, and the administration is under no obligation to act on any recommendations or requests that the GSA might make.

But I feel like my life is pretty good.

Without a union you may have it good right now, but Boston College could make a change at any time, without considering your concerns, and you have no recourse. This has happened to many grad workers at Boston College already. With a union, we get to negotiate a contract which is enforceable which would protect the benefits we like, and improve in the other areas. If you have it good, then it is in your best interest to join the union to help prevent cuts which so many of us have seen recently. Graduate unions are also organizing for better working conditions and benefits nationwide, and by standing together with tens of thousands of other grads we are part of a national movement.

Share