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 has 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 our graduate programs stronger. This is why many other universities (including NYU, Brandeis, Cornell, The New School, American, Tufts, and Loyola of Chicago) have already agreed to respect the democratic voice of their graduate employees and negotiate.
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 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, and with a contract we’ll be able to modify and improve these policies as well as to preserve the policies that work well.
Most importantly, with a union, we will have a 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.
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 we can ensure that our values, needs, and concerns help shape the decisions BC administrators make. We all have the same goals – to be successful in our scholarship, be healthy, and help BC succeed. A union will enable us to do just that.
Why pay dues to an organization which is “mired” in “corruption?”
The alleged activity of this one individual leader is appalling and goes against the fundamental values of transparency and accountability the UAW has upheld for more than 80 years. This activity did not involve UAW membership dues money, but rather Chrysler money that funds the National Training Center (NTC). Fortunately, the UAW has a long-standing, strict system of transparency and accountability to prevent one individual from misusing members’ dues money. The Union has worked actively with Chrysler to see that financial protections and oversight are in place to prevent this type of thing from occurring again at the NTC. Gary Casteel, the International UAW Secretary Treasurer, assured us that: “This was an isolated incident involving a rogue individual in our organization and a rogue individual in the corporation. No union funds or dues were involved. Regardless, when our union became aware of these allegations, we promptly began an internal investigation and we have cooperated with authorities.”
The International UAW maintains robust financial and accounting practices which promote transparency on members’ dues money to prevent the possibility of one dishonest, malicious individual from abusing the trust placed in them as stewards of the union’s resources. These systems have served UAW members well for decades, as no UAW International leader has ever been indicted for misuse of International Union funds.
I heard Harvard graduate students voted against UAW representation. Is that true?
Actually, the regional National Labor Relations Board ruled recently that the election was invalid due to Harvard’s negligence. The Harvard administration failed to include 500 eligible individuals on the official voter list. This negligence created major confusion, with more than 1,200 challenged ballots cast by individuals not on the list. The regional NLRB determined that Harvard’s negligence deprived voters of a free and fair election and ordered that there be a new vote. Harvard has appealed this decision, but organizers are hopeful that a new election will be held soon.
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.
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 the leading union for more than 65,000 academic workers across the US, the UAW has become a leader on 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.
International Academic Worker Issues
For many years now, 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 U.S. universities.
STEM Funding and National Policy on Postdoc Salaries
UAW is a national leader on encouraging federal investment in STEM research. Two local unions (one at the University of Washington and one at the University of California), in conjunction with the UAW nationally, ran 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.
The UAW also played a major role in advocating for the new overtime rules of the Department of Labor, which have led to significant enhancements of postdoc salaries all across the U.S. – and stands strongly opposed to President Trump’s recent reversal of DACA.